Restrictions on freedom of association and assembly in Swaziland (eSwatini) continued in the past year, a new report from Human Rights Watch said.
The new Police Service Act of 2018 limited police powers to prevent gatherings as it required only a ‘notice of gathering’ to be submitted to the relevant local authority, unlike the previous 1963 law that needed the police to issue a license to permit public gatherings, HRW said.
In a review of events in 2019 it said in August, Swazi public servants began mobilizing for a nationwide strike to demand an increase in wages.
‘The police did not disrupt the nationwide mobilization campaigns, but fired teargas and water cannons to disperse thousands of protesting government workers on September 23,’ HRW said.
Although eSwatini signed the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance in January 2018, the government did not take steps to ratify or implement the Charter.
The public servants were part of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), the Swaziland National Association of Government Accounting Personnel (SNAGAP), and the National Public Services and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU).
HRW said, ‘The various legislative improvements on freedom of association and assembly contained in the new Public Order Act of 2017, which imposes restrictions on the government’s power to limit freedoms of assembly and association, were not fully tested in practice in 2019 as restrictions on freedom of association and assembly continued.’
HRW said eSwatini remained an absolute monarchy ruled by King Mswati III, who has led the kingdom since 1986, with a 1973 decree banning opposition political parties. Despite the adoption of the 2005 constitution which guarantees basic rights, and the kingdom’s international human rights commitments, the government had not reviewed the decree or changed the law to allow the formation, registration, and participation of political parties in elections.
This was not the first report to detail human rights abuses in Swaziland. The United States State Department in its review of events in 2018 reported there was no appetite to investigate human rights abuses or corruption.
A 24-page report detailed ‘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’.
The report stated, ‘The government often did not investigate, prosecute, or administratively punish officials who committed human rights abuses. With very few exceptions, the government did not identify officials who committed abuses. Impunity was widespread.’
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.’
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.’
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