Thursday, July 18, 2019

Human Rights Watch adds to criticism of Swaziland’s freedom abuses

Another human rights group has criticised the Swaziland / eSwatini state for restricting freedom of association and assembly. Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch.

Human Rights Watch in a report detailing events during 2018 stated, ‘Restrictions on freedom of association and assembly continued in 2018. Although Eswatini signed the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance in January, the government has not taken steps to ratify and implement the charter.

‘A few days before the September elections, public sector workers, including teachers and nurses under the umbrella of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), embarked on protests over salaries across the country.  Police responded in a heavy-handed manner, beating and injuring protesters in Manzini. 

‘Earlier in June, police injured at least four workers protesting alleged corruption in government. These incidents occurred despite the new Police Service Act of 2018 that provides that “the police shall respect and protect human dignity and human rights,” and that “police officers are prohibited from inflicting or tolerating any act of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”’

Human Rights Watch also reported, ‘King Mswati holds supreme executive power over the parliament and judiciary by virtue of a 1973 state of emergency decree. The country’s courts have upheld the legality of the decree. This is contrary to the 2005 constitution, which in accordance with the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, provides for three separate organs of government—the executive, legislature, and judiciary.  The prime minister theoretically holds executive authority, but in reality, King Mswati exercises supreme executive power and also controls the judiciary.

‘The 2005 constitution provides for equality before the law, but also elevates the king above the law. In 2018, in an apparent exercise of his absolute executive powers, the king renamed the country without parliamentary approval or the requisite constitutional change.

‘The Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, which restricts freedom of expression through criminalizing alleged seditious publications and the use of alleged seditious words, such as those which “may excite disaffection” against the king, remained in force in 2018.  In February, then-Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini said that a newspaper, Swaziland Shopping, was shut because it criticized the government. Its editor, Zweli Martin Dlamini fled the country in January after allegedly receiving death threats for implicating King Mswati in a corruption case.’

Human rights violations in Swaziland have been well documented. Recently, the United States Department of State in its annual review of the kingdom, highlighted ‘human rights issues’ across a wide range of areas which included, ‘restrictions on political participation, corruption, rape and violence against women linked in part to government inaction, criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced, and child labor’. 

Amnesty International in a review of Swaziland for 2017 / 2018 stated, ‘The Public Order Act and the Suppression of Terrorism Act severely limited the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.’ 

It added, The Public Order Act, ‘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.’

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’.

See also

No appetite by Swaziland to investigate human rights abuses, corruption: U.S. report

Swaziland public services in meltdown and corruption goes unchecked: new report surveys the kingdom

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