Swaziland / eSwatini has once again been declared ‘not free’ in Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the World Index.
The 2019 report just published scores Swaziland 16 out of a possible total of 100. For political rights it scores seven; for civil liberties it scores six. Each rating is from one to seven, with one representing the greatest degree of freedom and seven the smallest.
Freedom House reported that countries that score seven for political rights, such as Swaziland, ‘have few or no political rights because of severe government oppression, sometimes in combination with civil war. While some are draconian police states, others may lack an authoritative and functioning central government and suffer from extreme violence or rule by regional warlords.’
It said countries that score six for civil liberties, as Swaziland does, ‘have very restricted civil liberties. They strongly limit the rights of expression and association and frequently hold political prisoners. They may allow a few civil liberties, such as some religious and social freedoms, some highly restricted private business activity, and some open and free private discussion.’
Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections. The people are only allowed to select 59 members of the House of Assembly; the King appoints a further 10. None of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people. Swaziland held an election in September 2018 but although the winners in each constituency have been announced the numbers of votes cast for each candidate have not been made public.
Freedom House is not the only international organisation to highlight the lack of human rights in Swaziland. The United States in its annual report on the kingdom for 2017 (the most recent available) stated, ‘The most significant human rights issues included: arbitrary interference with privacy and home; restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association; denial of citizens’ ability to choose their government in free and fair elections; institutional lack of accountability in cases involving rape and violence against women; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced; trafficking in persons; restrictions on worker rights; and child labor.
‘With few exceptions, the government did not prosecute or administratively punish officials who committed abuses. In general perpetrators acted with impunity.’
Amnesty International in a review of Swaziland for 2017 / 2018 stated, ‘Forced evictions continued to be carried out. The Public Order Act and the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) severely limited the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. A ban on opposition parties continued. Gender-related violence remained prevalent.’
It added, ‘King Mswati approved the Public Order Act on 8 August, which curtailed the rights to freedom of assembly and association, imposing far-reaching restrictions on organizers of public gatherings. The Act also failed to provide mechanisms to hold law enforcement officials accountable for using excessive force against protesters or public gatherings.’
Human Rights Watch in its report on events in Swaziland in 2016 stated Swaziland, ‘continued to repress political dissent and disregard human rights and rule of law principles in 2016. Political parties remained banned, as they have been since 1973; the independence of the judiciary is severely compromised, and repressive laws continued to be used to target critics of the government and the king despite the 2005 Swaziland Constitution guaranteeing basic rights.’
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