A United Nations group is investigating the use of torture by police in Swaziland.
It comes as another suspect alleges he was tortured while in custody and had to have hospital treatment.
Swaziland ratified the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2004 and its initial report on progress was due by 2005, but 13 years later it has failed to report. After such a long delay, the Human Rights Committee (HRC) has scheduled a review of the kingdom in the absence of report. This review will take place in July 2017.
In a wide-ranging document the HRC poses a number of questions to the Swazi Government which was not elected by the people but hand-picked by King Mswati III who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
On the use of police torture HRC asks the government, ‘Please state whether torture is specifically criminalized in the State party, with appropriate penalties, and provide information on whether an independent body exists to investigate complaints and prevent abuse and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.’
The inquiry also asks for information on the permissible grounds for deprivation of liberty and there is a way to address instances of unlawful arrest or detention.
HRC says, ‘Please also provide information on the rights of persons in police custody, including their right to have access to a lawyer, the stage at which a suspect is allowed access to a lawyer and the maximum period of detention before an individual is brought before a judge.’
It asks for data on the number of law enforcement officials that have been: (a) investigated; (b) prosecuted; (c) convicted or acquitted; and (d) punished, and the nature of the sanctions imposed.
The inquiry comes as Suspected killer Lucky Matsenjwa told a court in Swaziland he had been tortured by police so badly that he needed hospital treatment. The Observer on Saturday newspaper (27 May 2017) reported he had been taken to hospital in neighbouring South Africa for treatment.
In March 2017, police were alleged to have suffocated Elangeni alleged serial killer and rapist Vusi Kunene with a tube to coerce him to confess to the crimes. The Times of Swaziland reported at the time, ‘According to Dlamini, the interrogation and torture by the police lasted for 11 days before he was brought before a magistrate to record a confession.
‘He was allegedly not only suffocated and tortured but was also assaulted all over the body. As a result of the assault, Dlamini reportedly sustained serious injuries in some parts of his body.’
There are numerous reports of police torture in Swaziland. In January 2017, local media reported police forced a 13-year-old boy to remove his trousers and flogged him with a sjambok, to make him confess to stealing a mobile phone.
In September 2016, women were reportedly ambushed by armed police and ‘brutally attacked’ by police during a strike at the Plantation Forest Company, near Pigg’s Peak.
In June 2016, a United Nations review panel looking into human rights in Swaziland was told in a joint report by four organisations, ‘In Mbabane [the Swazi capital], police tortured a 15-year-old boy after his mother had reported him for stealing E85.00 (US$6). The boy alleges that he was beaten with a slasher (metal blade tool for cutting grass) and knobkerrie (club) for five hours. While enduring the pain, he alleges that he was made to count the strokes aloud for the police to hear. Instead of being charged, the boy was physically assaulted and made to sit in a chair for thirty minutes before he was sent back home.’
The report was submitted to the United Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland by the Swaziland Multi-Media Community Network, Swaziland Concerned Church Leaders, Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations and Constituent Assembly – Swaziland.
They also reported the case of Phumelela Mkhweli, a political activist who died after an alleged assault by police after they arrested him.
The report also stated, ‘In April 2011, a 66-year-old woman was confronted by three police officers regarding the wording on her t-shirt and headscarf. The police allegedly pulled off her T-shirt, throttled her, banged her head against the wall, sexually molested her, kicked her and threw her against a police truck.
‘The US Department of State reported on many allegations of torture and ill-treatment by police; including beatings and temporary suffocation using rubber tube tied around the face, nose, and mouth, or plastic bags over the head,’ the report stated.
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