Court rules Lesotho princesses can't be chief

Lesotho's top court on Thursday upheld a law that bars princesses from succeeding their fathers as traditional chiefs, a decision activists say dealt a "serious blow" to women's rights and gender equality.

Consitutional court judge Ts'eliso Monaphathi ruled the current law was not discriminatory, as it allowed for the wives of a chief to become his successor.

"Only a male first born of the chief may take up the chieftainship failing which if the chief has no other son the wife of the chief may take over the chieftainship," said Monaphathi.

"This shows that women are not discriminated against but have to be in a certain position to take over the vacant position."

The landmark case was brought by Senate Masupha, the first-born child of a chief who died and was replaced by her mother, who has also since died.

"I do not feel that the princess can claim that any of her rights have been infringed," said the judge in his ruling.

Masupha said she was not entirely shocked by the ruling but vowed to appeal.

"I am very disappointed but a little bit of me expected this result," Masupha told AFP.

In Lesotho the role of a chief is mainly ceremonial, but they are also involved in the running of local government.

Rights activists decried the court's decision as a step backward for the tiny mountainous kingdom.

"This is a dark day for women in Lesotho," said Priti Patel deputy director of the Johannesburg based Southern Africa Litigation Centre.

The ruling "has basically re-affirmed the view that women are second-class citizens in Lesotho," added Patel

The decision goes against a trend in other parts of the Africa, where a series of court decisions have removed discriminatory laws.

South Africa's Constitutional Court has struck down laws which deny women the right to succeed to chieftainship.

Recently the Botswana High Court also struck down a customary law which precluded women from inheritance.

Courts in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania have also severed laws which segregate women in similar issues, according to SALC.