King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland /eSwatini, continues to hold a tight grip on power and all aspects of life in the kingdom, a review of human rights has concluded.
Freedom House scored Swaziland 16 out of a possible 100 points in its Freedom in the World 2019 report. It concluded that Swaziland was ‘not free’.
Freedom House stated, ‘The king exercises ultimate authority over all branches of the national government and effectively controls local governance through his influence over traditional chiefs. Political dissent and civic and labor activism are subject to harsh punishment under sedition and other laws. Additional human rights problems include impunity for security forces and discrimination against women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people.’
National elections took place in Swaziland in 2018. Freedom House scored Swaziland zero out of a possible 12 points for its ‘electoral process’. It stated, ‘The king, who remains the chief executive authority, is empowered to appoint and dismiss the prime minister and members of the cabinet. The prime minister is ostensibly the head of government, but has little power in practice. Ambrose Dlamini was appointed prime minister in October 2018, although he was not a member of Parliament at the time of his appointment, as required by the constitution.
‘Traditional chiefs govern their respective localities and typically report directly to the king. While some chiefs inherit their positions according to custom, others are appointed through royal interventions, as allowed by the constitution.
‘The 69-member House of Assembly, the lower chamber of the bicameral Parliament, features 59 members elected by popular vote within the tinkhundla system, which allows local chiefs to vet candidates and influence outcomes in practice; the king appoints the other 10 members. The king appoints 20 members of the 30-seat Senate, the upper chamber, with the remainder selected by the House of Assembly. All members of Parliament serve five-year terms. After the parliamentary elections in September 2018, the king appointed six members of the royal family to the House of Assembly, and eight to the Senate. The elections, which were tightly controlled and featured a slate of candidates almost entirely loyal to the king, did not offer voters a genuine choice.
‘In August, a senior official at the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) reported that members of the House of Assembly were accepting bribes in exchange for their votes in Senate elections. At year’s end, no apparent consequences had followed.’
Freedom House scored Swaziland one point out of a possible 16 for ‘political pluralism and participation’ stating, ‘The king has tight control over the political system in law and in practice, leaving no room for the emergence of an organized opposition with the potential to enter government. The vast majority of candidates who contested the 2018 general elections were supporters of the king.’
Political parties are banned from taking part in elections. Freedom House stated, ‘Over the years, political parties seeking legal recognition have suffered court defeats, including a Supreme Court ruling in September 2018 rejecting a challenge by the Swazi Democratic Party (SWADEPA) to the ban on political parties competing in elections.’
Swaziland scored zero out of a possible 12 points for ‘functioning of government.’ The king appoints the Prime Minister and government ministers. Freedom House stated, ‘The king and his government determine policy and legislation; members of Parliament hold no real power and effectively act as a rubber stamp in approving the king’s legislative priorities. Parliament cannot initiate legislation and has little oversight or influence on budgetary matters. The king is also constitutionally empowered to veto any legislation. The absolute authority of the king was demonstrated by his decision to rename the country in April 2018 [from Swaziland to eSwatini] without any constitutional process or parliamentary approval.
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.’
Swazi law used against human rights