Friday, January 5, 2018


At least 133 people have been detained in Swaziland jails without trial for more than a year, the kingdom’s human rights commission reported.

That is the number of people who have reported their grievance, Executive Secretary of the Human Rights Commission Linda Nxumalo told the Sunday Observer (31 December 2017).

The Observer reported Nxumalo saying, ‘One of the key cases that the Commission has worked on [in 2017] was one dealing with the issue of access to justice especially for 133 inmates that have been detained for longer than 12 months without trial or sentencing at our already overcrowded correctional facilities. 

‘After its investigations and understanding the bottlenecks, the Commission has been working with the relevant stakeholders within the Justice system to address some of the challenges unmasked by the investigations. Together with the Correctional Services, the Commission is still working on these cases to ensure that the clients eventually receive redress as soon as practicable.’

Nxumalo said the Commission was also working with relevant departments to ‘systematically address the challenges to ensure that the bottlenecks are addressed so that justice is not delayed’. 

Swaziland’s prison system has been under scrutiny or many years by human rights observers. 

Innocent children are jailed almost routinely in the kingdom because they are considered ‘unruly’ by parents or guardians, but have committed no crime.

A report submitted jointly to the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland April-May 2016 by SOS-Swaziland, Super Buddies, Prison Fellowship and Luvatsi – Swaziland Youth Empowerment Organisation, gave the example of one child aged 11.

Their report stated, ‘There is a growing trend of child and youth abuse done by the state and the parents purportedly in “the best interests of the child”. Children and youths are illegally incarcerated in prison centres by parents in collaboration with the Commissioner of Correctional Services who claims that the children are unruly. 

‘In one incident, Grace (not her real name) who is a single parent to John (not his real name) wrote a request letter to the Commissioner of Correctional Services requesting that John be incarcerated for unruly behaviour. In the letter, Grace states her concerns that eleven years old John might not finish school; hence her reason for wanting him incarcerated and attending the juvenile school at Malkerns Industrial School for Rehabilitation.

‘Responding to the same letter of request by Grace, the Commissioner of Correctional Services stated that under normal circumstances, they do not admit persons who have not been sentenced by the courts and directed therein through committal warrants. 

‘However, the Commissioner agreed to rehabilitate John under the stated conditions; that the 11 years old John is institutionalised at the juvenile school for 10 years; there is an order from a presiding officer giving him a custodial order of ten years without remission; and that he will cooperate with His Majesty’s Correctional Services while under its care. 

‘With that response, Grace [sic] the letter to a presiding officer who then wrote a custodial order for the stipulated time and John was admitted to the juvenile school in 2013. The 11 years old John lodges with other juveniles who have been charged by the court of law for various crimes they have committed. Grace pays tuition fees and up-keep fees for John, and she will continue doing so for the next ten years until 11 years old John is 21 years.  

‘This case is one of many, and the children are of different ages and varying backgrounds. It is only recently that a joint task team comprising of UNICEF, Prison Fellowship Swaziland, Lawyers for Human Rights-Swaziland, Save the Children Swaziland working together with the department of home affairs are exploring means to curb this situation and probably provide solutions for both the parents and children.’

In 2012, the Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland reported that Isaiah Mzuthini Ntshangase, Swaziland’s Correctional Services Commissioner, was encouraging parents to send their ‘unruly children’ to the facility if they thought they were badly behaved.

Ntshangase was speaking at the open day of the Juvenile Industrial School at the Mdutshane Correctional Institution. He told the newspaper, ‘Noticing the strife that parents go through when raising some of their children who are unruly, we decided to open our doors to assist them.’ 

The school not only corrected offenders but assisted, ‘in the fight against crime by rooting out elements from a tender age’, the newspaper reported him saying. The children, ‘will be locked up, rehabilitated and integrated back to society’, the Times reported.

In 2014 it was revealed more than 1,000 people - three in ten of the entire prison population -were in jail in Swaziland because they were too poor to pay fines. 

In Swaziland offenders are often given the option of jail time or paying a fine. There were people in jail because they could not pay fines for a range of matters, including traffic offences, theft by false pretences, malicious injury to property and fraud.

Figures revealed that in Swaziland, where seven in ten people live in abject poverty with incomes less than US$2 per day, 1,053 of 3,615 inmates in Swazi jails were there because they did not have the money to pay the fine option. This was 29.1 percent of the entire prison population.

Correctional Services Commissioner Isaiah Ntshangase said the numbers in prison because they could not pay fines was growing.

In July 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) interrogated Swaziland which is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, on a number of prison-related human rights issues, including food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

It also asked the Government to, ‘comment on the allegations that the president of the (outlawed) political party People’s United Democratic Movement of Swaziland, Mario Masuku, was denied access to adequate and independent medical care for complications relating to diabetes throughout the 14 months he spent in pretrial detention at Zakhele Remand centre and Matsapha Central Prison.’  

The HRC also asked for detailed information about the number of existing prisons in the kingdom, prison capacity and the number of inmates and whether there were separate facilities for adults and children. It also asked what plans Swaziland had to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

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