Labour Members of the European Parliament are calling on the European Union to re-think its preferential trade agreements with Swaziland because of the kingdom’s poor record on human rights.
This follows news that Swazi human rights lawyer and writer Thulani Maseko has been placed in solitary confinement in jail after a letter he wrote from his cell was published on the Internet and social media.
Maseko and Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation, monthly magazine in Swaziland, are serving two years in prison after writing and publishing articles critical of the kingdom’s judiciary.
In a statement the European Parliamentary Labour Party said the EU must act ‘against intolerable human rights abuses in Swaziland’.
It said, ‘The situation of Swazi trade unionists and human rights activists has been deteriorating in recent years and was further worsened by the decision of the government to ban all workers’ and employers' federations in October 2014.’
Richard Howitt MEP, Labour's European spokesperson on human rights, said, ‘The deeply worrying and deplorable human rights abuses in Swaziland documented by the Robert F Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights should be a wakeup call to the EU. Countries in receipt of EU trade preferences, such as Swaziland, must understand the sacredness of human rights and free speech.
‘As such, the EU must act as the confident and reforming voice that it is and not turn a blind eye on trade to those who turn a blind eye on human rights.’
David Martin MEP, Socialists and Democrats Group spokesperson on international trade, said, ‘Human rights and labour rights should be at the heart of EU external policy including trade.’
Jude Kirton-Darling MEP, member of the European Parliament international trade committee, said, ‘The EU grants trade preferences to countries like Swaziland in order to incentivise governments to deliver human and labour rights.
‘What this latest abuse in Swaziland shows is that this policy of incentives has failed. If the EU want to be serious about human rights, it is high time we get serious about our criteria for granting trade preferences.’
Swaziland has already lost preferential trade tariffs with the United States under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) because of its refusal to embrace democratic reforms.
King Mswati III, rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and all groups advocating for multiparty democracy in the kingdom have been banned as ‘terrorists’ under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. King Mswati appoints all members of the government and the judiciary.
JAILED WRITER IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
SUPPORT FOR JAILED SWAZI JOURNALISTS