Sunday, May 26, 2019

US Ambassador to Swaziland’s optimism over political progress in kingdom misplaced

The confidence Lisa Peterson, US Ambassador to Swaziland /eSwatini, has that the kingdom is honouring the rights enshrined in the constitution and allowing political marches is misplaced. The facts show the opposite is happening.

Ambassador Peterson made her comments in an article published in both the two national newspapers in Swaziland. She wrote after the publication of the annual US State Department report on human rights in Swaziland. It covered the year 2018.

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch. He chooses the government, top judges and senior civil servants. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and groups that advocate for democracy in the kingdom are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

In her article Ambassador Peterson wrote, ‘If you look back at prior year human rights reports, you will see that prior restrictions on public gatherings were part of what drew international attention to Eswatini’s failure to honour the constitution’s fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, and expression.

‘Having explicitly political marches take place [in 2018], and having the organisers able to publicly highlight their success, shows that Eswatini is better honouring the rights enshrined in its constitution. Such improvement should be celebrated.’

She made no reference to the numerous cases where state forces attacked legitimate protestors during 2018. Live ammunition, rubber bullets and teargas were repeatedly used.

In August 2018, for example, police attacked three separate demonstrations by workers protesting for better pay and conditions. 

Police fired several gunshot blasts while textile workers, mostly women, protested at Nhlangano about poor pay. More than 200 paramilitary police and correctional facility warders with riot shields, helmets and batons guarded the entrance to Juris, one of the major factories, according to a local media report. It happened on 30 August 2018 when five firms closed after management locked gates after workers gathered.

On the previous Friday police shot and wounded a schoolteacher during a march in Manzini. On the Wednesday that week in Mbabane nurses were tasered. Both groups were protesting at the Swazi government’s decision to offer a zero increase in their salary cost of living adjustment.

In September 2018, police blocked nurses who were legally trying to deliver a petition to government as part of their ongoing campaign against service cuts. One local newspaper reported a policeman’s baton was broken in two during the confrontation.

Also in September, police officers were captured on video viciously attacking defenceless workers on the street in Manzini during a legal protest over pay. Dozens of  officers in riot gear and waving batons were seen chasing workers. At least one officer appeared to be wielding a whip. Workers were seen running fearing for their safety. The police indiscriminately hit the fleeing workers around their bodies. It was on the first day of a three day national strike organised by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA). Protests took place simultaneously in the towns and cities of Mbabane, Manzini, Siteki and Nhlangano.

The strike had earlier been declared legal under Swaziland’s Industrial Relations Act.

Four protesters were injured on 29 June 2018 when police opened fire with rubber bullets and stun grenades during a workers’ protest in Mbabane against government policies. AFP reported, ‘Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at about 500 protesters, as well as using water cannon and wielding batons, as demonstrators threw stones at officers.’ Reuters put the number of protestors at 2,000.

Reuters reported they marched against poor service delivery, alleged misuse of state pension funds and a proposed law to charge citizens who marry foreigners.

On 13 April, police fired rubber bullets as about 2,000 workers and supporters took to the streets of Mbabane to protest against worsening living conditions. The AFP news agency reported one protestor was hit in the thigh by a rubber bullet.

In April, police fired rubber bullets and arrested eight students when they put a rubbish skip in the middle of a road during a protest against poor teaching and Limkokwing University, Mbabane. 

On 15 March, police armed with batons blocked a road in Lobamba to stop a petition rejecting the national budget being delivered to parliament. Police with guns watched from a distance. About 100 members of civil society groups, community organisations and political parties under the banner of the Swaziland Economic Justice Network marched from Somhlolo National Stadium heading to the Parliament gate.

On 31 January, police reportedly fired live ammunition during a protest by students from Swaziland Christian University about delays in receiving allowances and problems over graduation.

The Department of State report was not only one to detail human rights in Swaziland  during 2018. Freedom House concluded in its annual review that King Mswati  continued to hold a tight grip on power and all aspects of life in the kingdom.

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 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.’

Richard Rooney

See also

Swaziland police fire gunshots during textiles dispute, third attack on workers in a week

Swaziland teacher who stopped police chief shooting into unarmed crowd appears in court

Police in Swaziland attack nurses with taser during peaceful protest over pay

No comments: