Women and Justice: Court: High Court of Lesotho

Domestic Case Law

Mokhele and Others v. Commander High Court of Lesotho (2018)

Gender discrimination

The applicants were female soldiers who were discharged from the army by the Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force on the grounds of pregnancy. The reason listed for the discharge of the applicants was pregnancy and a contravention of the army’s Standing Order No. 2 of 2014, which states that a soldier may not become pregnant during the first five years of service. The High Court stated that case before it was a “challenge to the culture of patriarchy in the military and an assertion of sexual and reproductive rights in military service. What is being contested is the idea that female soldiers are incapable to bear arms and babies at the same time and, on that account, are not fit for military purpose.” The court stated that to allow the dismissal from work on the grounds of pregnancy would amount to discrimination on the basis of sex because pregnancy affects only women. The Standing Order had profound effects on the reproductive rights, freedoms, and careers of female soldiers, and the five-year prohibition period was arbitrary in nature. The court held that the applicants must be reinstated back to their positions and ranks in the Lesotho Defence Force without any loss of benefits.

Phaila v. Director General National Security Services High Court of Lesotho (2008)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

The applicant, a married woman, was a member of the National Security Services stationed at Maseru. On 4 May 2007 she received a letter from the respondent notifying her of her transfer from Maseru to Mafeteng, though the transfer was not implemented. The transfer letter followed a complaint of sexual harassment lodged by the applicant against one of her superiors. The applicant had lodged the complaint in April 2007, and it was duly attended to. A Commission of Enquiry was set up to investigate the matter, but no report was published nor furnished to the applicant despite her numerous requests. The applicant argued that, among other reasons, the transfer was unlawful because it was not bona fide and was intended to serve as a punishment for lodging the complaint of sexual harassment. The applicant stated that she had no problem leaving Maseru but that she had only received two weeks’ notice in which to do so. The respondent did not deny that the complaint of sexual harassment or its failure to furnish the applicant with a report. The High Court found that the transfer was mala fide as the applicant was not afforded a hearing prior to such transfer, the report was unreasonably withheld, and she was not afforded enough time to prepare herself and her family to move to that new station. The court declared the decision to transfer the applicant to Mafeteng null and void.

Lesia v. Lesia High Court of Lesotho (2013)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Property and inheritance rights

Mrs. Lesia filed an application for relief against her husband, alleging that he abandoned his family, abused her, and was attempting to sell their home without her consent. She alleged that she built and paid for the home, and so sought to have her husband enjoined from selling it. The court issued an interim order granting the requested relief. The defendant disregarded the court order, continued his efforts to sell the home, and threatened to kill Mrs. Lesia if she kept interfering. To justify his rejection of the court order, the defendant claimed that he was not married to Mrs. Lesia, and that she had no right to file any applications against him. The court upheld Mrs. Lesia’s right to seek judicial intervention and sentenced the defendant to 30 days in jail for willfully disobeying the court’s order.

Rex v. Makebe High Court of Lesotho (2011)

Sexual violence and rape

The complainant alleged that the defendant raped her. The defendant vehemently denied the allegations and testified that the sex was consensual. The High Court treated the defendant’s claim of consent as an affirmative defense ruling that he had the burden of proving consent. The Court found that the defense was unable “through cross examination, to show that the sex was consensual” (p. 4). Consequently, the Court convicted the defendant of rape. This was a landmark case because it essentially shifted the burden of proof in rape cases. Instead of requiring the prosecution to prove a lack of consent, the court made the defendant prove that the victim consented to the sexual encounter.

Rex v. Latsi High Court of Lesotho (2007)

Sexual violence and rape

While considering the appeal of a rape conviction, the High Court condemned the trial court’s failure to punish the defendant in accordance with the severity of his crime. The Court found that where a trial court finds sufficient evidence of rape, the sentence should be more than a mere “slap on the wrist.” The court stated that “rape is always serious even without aggravating circumstances” because the victim’s “virginity has been assaulted and undoubtedly her dignity and reputation have been compromised blighting her prospects for marriage” (p. 1). The Court found that those factors should always be considered before a sentence is imposed. The Court affirmed the conviction and increased the defendant’s prison sentence from five to ten years.

Rex v. Tekane High Court of Lesotho (2007)

Statutory rape or defilement

The defendant was convicted of persistent sexual abuse of a minor child. The trial evidence showed that the defendant was the victim’s uncle and that he convinced her that, in accordance with tradition and custom, he was supposed to teach her to have sex. As instructed, the minor allowed the defendant to perform sexual acts on her. Since the child was below the legal age of consent, the High Court did not consider her level of resistance. The Court found the defendant guilty of sexually abusing a minor and sentenced him to fifteen years in prison.

Raposholi v. Commissioner of Police High Court of Lesotho (2007)

Custodial violence, Sexual violence and rape

The plaintiff sued the government for false arrest and assault. The plaintiff, who worked for the government as an accounts clerk, claimed she was robbed by two armed men while she was transporting government funds. The next day, the police arrested her. The plaintiff alleged that she was taken to a police post, stripped down to her underwear, placed on her back, beaten, and interrogated, while the officers beat her and poured water over her head. The High Court determined that the plaintiff’s arrest was lawful but the torture was not. A medical certificate entered into evidence showed that plaintiff had injuries when she was released from police custody. Because there was no proof that she had those injuries before she was detained, the Court found that the plaintiff was entitled to relief.

Rex v. Motsoene High Court of Lesotho (2005)

Sexual violence and rape

The defendant was charged with violating the Sexual Offence Act of 2003 for the attempted rape of a 71-year-old woman. The trial evidence showed that the victim’s daughter intervened and was able to stop the rape after the defendant threw the victim to the ground but before he could commit the actual rape. As such, the defendant maintained at trial that he was innocent because the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 did not criminalize attempted rape. The High Court disagreed with the defendant’s interpretation of the Sexual Offenses Act. The Court held that, in order to sustain a conviction for attempted rape, the prosecutor simply had to provide evidence of the defendant’s intent to commit rape and any actions taken to commence the actual crime. Here, the defendant struggled with the victim, threw her to the ground, and stated his intention to have sex with her against her will. Consequently, the Court found the defendant guilty of attempted rape.

Rex v. Lenyolosa High Court of Lesotho (2003)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The defendant was convicted for sexual assault and attempted rape of his 16-year-old niece. The appellate court upheld the conviction, but overturned the sentence imposed by the trial court. The appellate court held that the lower court failed to consider aggravating factors, including the close relationship between the parties. Given the prevalence of sexual assault in Lesotho, the court determined that jail sentences needed to serve as a deterrent for both the perpetrator and the general public. According to the court, “a very loud and clear message must be sent to all those who consider themselves with power and right to abuse or rape girls and women, that they will be dealt with the seriousness their unlawful actions demand” (p. 5). The Court sentenced the defendant to two years imprisonment with one year suspended for five years, unless the defendant commits another violent offense.

Rex v. Ntai High Court of Lesotho (2004)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender-based violence in general

The defendant was convicted of culpable homicide. The trial evidence showed that after spending an evening at a bar, the defendant beat his girlfriend to death. The defendant sought leniency at sentencing, arguing that he was drunk when he committed the offense. The High Court found that although intoxication somewhat lessens the blameworthiness of a person, the courts should not consider it a mitigating factor. According to the Court, defendants “should not be allowed to escape appropriate punishment for their actions for reasons of drunkenness, especially where such actions exhibit an attitude of violence against women” (p. 3). The Court sentenced the defendant to seven years imprisonment with half of the sentence suspended for five years if he was not found guilty of another violent offense during the suspension. This decision marked a shift in how intoxication was treated for purposes of sentencing in domestic violence cases in Lesotho.

Petlane v. Petlane High Court of Lesotho (1999)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Domestic and intimate partner violence, Property and inheritance rights

Mrs. Petlane, the plaintiff, sued her husband, alleging that he abused her regularly and caused her to leave their marital home. The plaintiff sought relief from the physical abuse, custody of the parties’ minor child, spousal support, and child support. The defendant did not allege an inability to provide for his wife and child, but insisted that they live together if he was going to provide that support. First, the High Court found that it had jurisdiction because the parties had a civil marriage rather than a customary marriage, as the defendant claimed. Then the Court held that Mr. Petlane could not compel his wife to return home, which would risk more physical abuse, by refusing to support her financially. Because his abusive behavior drove her out of the marital home, the court ordered Mr. Petlane to make regular spousal and child support payments to Mrs. Petlane.

Rex v. Tauhali and Mashea High Court of Lesotho (1999)

Sexual violence and rape

Both of the accused were convicted of raping a 25-year-old woman when each took turns helping the other to rape the complainant. Two women who were with her tried to drive off the accused, but they threw rocks at the women and chased them off. The Court noted that the punishment for rape carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a minimum sentence of five years imprisonment when there are no mitigating or aggravating factors. Aggravating factors include (1) violence in addition to the violence of the rape, (2) use of a weapon to intimidate or physically harm, and (3) repeated rape. The Court upheld the conviction and overturned the previous sentence of five years each to eight years, finding that gang rape calls for a higher sentence. In its discussion of the elements of rape, the Court noted that if one perpetrator held a woman down while another raped her, then the first would also be guilty of rape. In addition, in contradiction of international standards, the Court stated that women lack the necessary anatomy to commit rape and therefore can only be guilty of rape by assisting a male perpetrator.

Theko v. Theko High Court of Lesotho (1982)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage

The plaintiff-wife sought the dissolution of her marriage to the defendant on the grounds of his previous marriage under the Sotho custom. The Court declared the marriage to be null and void on the grounds that the plaintiff agreed to the marriage through fraud, believing that the defendant was unmarried at the time and would not have agreed to the marriage if she had known the truth.

Nkabane v. Nkabane High Court of Lesotho (1987)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender discrimination, Gender violence in conflict, Gender-based violence in general, Property and inheritance rights

The plaintiff wife sought a decree of divorce on the grounds of the defendant's desertion on the grounds that the defendant abused her and drove her out of the matrimonial home to live with another woman. The Court found that the defendant was previously married through Lesotho customary law to the other woman at the time of the marriage to the plaintiff; thus, the defendant's marriage to the plaintiff was null and void. However, the Court declared that the relationship was a "putative marriage" for the purposes of dividing the plaintiff and defendant's joint property.

Rex v. Rankhebe High Court of Lesotho (1987)

Gender-based violence in general, International law, Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The accused was convicted of raping an 11 year-old girl. In considering sentencing, the High Court upheld the conviction and, citing South African and English law, noted the presumption that girls under the age of 12 are considered too young to give their consent to intercourse, but in cases involving girls between the ages of 12 and 16 the prosecution must demonstrate that there was non-consent for the accused to be convicted of rape. If a girl of 12 to 16 years old does consent to sexual intercourse with a man, then the man should be found guilty of defilement or statutory rape under the Women and Girls Protection Proclamation No. 14 of 1949. [Note: The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child/minor as any person under 18 years of age in the absence of domestic laws. Generally, minors do not have the capacity to give consent.]