The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), the workers’ federation banned in the kingdom because it supported calls for democratic change, has been awarded a prestigious international human rights award.
The George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award in 2015 recognized, ‘the courage and persistence of Swaziland’s workers in demanding their rights in one of the world’s most autocratic countries’.
Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King chooses the government.
Earlier in 2015, Swaziland was named among the top ten worst countries in the world for workers’ rights, in a report published by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
The AFL-CIO workers’ union in the United States reported that in recent years, ‘Swaziland’s monarchical government has become increasingly repressive’.
It added, ‘As legal and physical attacks on Swaziland workers and their allies became more frequent, TUCOSWA remained resolute in its support for worker rights, standing up for its right to exist, and to support human rights activists illegally harassed and imprisoned.
‘TUCOSWA has stood for democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Through persistent efforts and support from unions worldwide, TUCOSWA won its recognition battle in May 2015, but continues to face hurdles in the way of making legal standing a reality.’
TUCOSWA was formed in 2012 when the Swaziland Federation of Labour, the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, and the Swaziland National Association for Teachers merged. It was refused registration and legal standing for three years.
Swaziland lost its preferential trading rights with the United States under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) because of its consistent refusal to make promised policy reforms that would recognize freedom of assembly, speech, and organization and curtail the broad discretionary authority that police use to disrupt union activities and arrest civil society activists including union leaders, journalists, student leaders, and political dissidents.
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