SWAZILAND FAILS ON FREEDOM PROMISE

Swaziland has failed in the promise it gave a United Nations review in 2011 to change laws in the kingdom relating to freedom of association and assembly so they met international standards.
Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections; only 55 members of the 65-seat House of Assembly are elected by the people and none of the 30-seat Senate.
In 2011 at a United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland, Swaziland agreed to “align the national legislation with international standards to guarantee freedom of assembly and association, in particular as regards the notification of the organization of peaceful assemblies.”

May 2016, Human Rights Watch stated, ‘The [Swazi] government has yet to repeal, or amend as appropriate, a number of repressive laws that restrict basic rights guaranteed in Swaziland’s 2005 constitution, including freedom of association and assembly. On the contrary the government has intensified restrictions on these rights over the past four years. The laws in need of amendment include the 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA), the 1938 Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, and the 1963 Public Order Act.

‘Police have sweeping powers under the Public Order Act. The king’s 1973 decree banning political parties remains in force despite repeated calls from local political activists to have it revoked. The constitution does not address the formation or role of political parties. Section 79 of the constitution provides that Swaziland practises an electoral system based on individual merit and excludes the participation of political parties in elections.

‘Traditional leaders and chiefs have powers to restrict access to their territories, and have often used these powers to bar civil society groups and political groups like the Ngwane National Liberation Congress (NNLC) and the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) from having meetings, recruiting, or any kind of presence in their areas. In 2011 PUDEMO challenged in court the government’s refusal to register political parties but the court said PUDEMO has no legal standing to approach the court as it did not exist as a legal entity.

‘The Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) places severe restrictions on civil society organizations, religious groups, and the media because it includes in the definition of “terrorist act” a wide range of legitimate conduct such as criticism of government, enabling officials to use the provisions of the Act to target perceived opponents of the government. The government has also misused the STA to target independent organizations by accusing them of being “terrorist” groups, and harassed civil society activists through abusive surveillance and unlawful searches of homes and offices.

‘Individuals who have been targeted for arrest or prosecution under the STA include the leaders of People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) who were arrested and detained under the STA in 2014. Police arrested PUDEMO leader Mario Masuku in May 2014, on terrorism charges for criticizing the government in a speech on May 1. At the time of writing Masuku was out of jail on bail pending the outcome of his trial. If convicted, he could serve up to 15 years in prison.
‘Police used violence to halt May Day celebrations organized by trade unions in May 2013. In March 2015 police beat leaders of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers and prevented them from holding a meeting ostensibly because the discussions would have included calls for multi-party democracy.’

‘In August 2014, human rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze attended a civil society event in Washington DC held at the White House to coincide with the US-Africa Summit hosted by American President Barack Obama. At the time, there had been a crackdown on free expression in Swaziland and a number of political and social activists were in prison or facing charges resulting from their criticism of the Swazi King and political system.

‘Gumedze was photographed with a colleague from the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) holding a banner saying “Free Speech in Swaziland NOW!” Soon after, the Prime Minister of Swaziland, Barnabus Sibusiso Dlamini, said, in a speech to Parliament, that Gumedze and his colleague should be “strangled” on their return to Swaziland.

‘Another of these lawyers, Thulani Maseko, spent fifteen months in prison in 2014 to 2015 after he was charged and convicted of contempt of court for writing an article that was critical of the then-Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi. Maseko was described as a “disgrace to the legal profession” by the presiding judge, Mpendulo Simelane, when he was sentenced. Ramodibedi and Simelane have since been charged with defeating the ends of justice – in essence what Maseko was attempting to highlight in his article.’

By: Zanele Shongwe

REFERENCES:

http://www.observer.org.sz/news/72138-justice-ramodibedi-faces-impeachment.html
http://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/document/swaziland/session_25_-_may_2016/hrw_e_main.pdf
http:allafrica.com/stories/201511271310.html
http://www.southernafricalitigationcentre.org/cases/completed-cases/swazi-human-rights-lawyer-and-editor-charged-with-contempt-of –court/

Swaziland is at the crossroads, the country is buffeted by a myriad of challenges that threaten its fragile unity, the challenges are enormous and seem to have defied solutions. The Hobbesian state of nature in which life is nasty short and Brutus, aptly destructs the wobbly state of the nation.

To even use the word good governance is charitable, good governance is an alien concept to Swazi people (eMaSwati), the over 48years of the Tinkhundla rule, destroyed the structures that would have instituted good governance in Swaziland. In contradiction, what Tinkhundla rule instituted was a culture of impunity and brayed disregard for the laws of the land.
In 48years, Swazi people have become ever more disillusioned and hopeless, living with a tragic sense of national loss. The challenges facing Swaziland is that democratic rule has not in anyway been addressed. These challenges HURT the citizens. The democratic rules are never ever respected by the government, this government has not created an inability environment for the attainment of socio-economic development for its citizens.

Almost on all development indices, Swaziland remains a toddler, underdeveloped-and on brink of collapse. The forces that threaten the country's unity are symptomatic of the fact that Swaziland is a faint state.
Nation building demands that a common ground for peaceful and co-existence of the 1.2million people would have been established both constitutionally and in practice.
Life is getting tougher by the day for ordinary Swazi people. The job losses are getting abnormal. It's clear that the government needs to do more.

Swaziland has lost thousands of people and jobs, neither the numbers nor the people appear to be important, lives no longer count. They have become numbers, ordinary statistics, kept for records. What society watches its citizens decimated in this manner, without being shocked into action? How can government be so unfeeling? Why do we have to go through ALL this as a nation?
Does our government really care? Only heavens knows what else is mixing up into our misery.
Are the scandals in the Land embarrassing to this government?

By: Celiwe Belinda Shongwe

Women have historically been oppressed in Swaziland, and although the recent 2005 constitution provides for equality between men and women, women continue to struggle for their rights. Article 28 of the constitution covers women’s rights, saying, “(1) Women have the right to equal treatment with men and that right shall include equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities. (2) Subject to the availability of resources, the Government shall provide facilities and opportunities necessary to enhance the welfare of women to enable them to realise their full potential and advancement. (3) A woman shall not be compelled to undergo or uphold any custom to which she is in conscience opposed.” These provisions are vague, and many old laws that directly conflict with Article 28 are still on the books.

A 2010 High Court ruling allowing married women to register property in their own names was repealed only a few months later by the Supreme Court. The inability to own property makes it nearly impossible for women to leave abusive husbands, as they would be left with nowhere to live and nothing to their name. Women in Swaziland are essentially classified as minors, with few rights of their own.

Article 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Swaziland is a party, states that “The States Parties to the present covenant undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights set forth in the present covenant”. Swaziland’s self enforcement of this provision has been extremely poor, and other nations have done little in terms of soft law to draw international pressure to the issue.

Many of Swaziland’s outdated laws treat women as second class citizens. One 1889 law, which police are cracking down on,forbids women from wearing mini-skirts or midriff-baring tops. However, the one situation in which this law does not apply is in traditional rituals, where the king may choose his wife from dancing topless virgins. The government argues that forcing women and girls to wear skirts of at least knee length helps to curb the spread of HIV, and discourages rape.

Patriarchy is a system that has long been entrenched in Swaziland, and progress on the subject in recent years has been very minimal. King Mswati III’s thirteen wives are a testament to the fact that women themselves are treated as property, and the fact that women wearing miniskirts are seen as much of a cause of rape as the rapists themselves show little regard that is given to the health and dignity of women.

Violence against women and girls is a very serious problem, placing them at risk of HIV infection in a country with one of the highest prevalence rates globally. The Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill has been under discussion and consideration by parliament since 2006. In 2009 the house of assembly passed the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill, but still waiting to be signed by King Mswati III.There are also no laws against early or forced marriages, and girls as young as 13 can be married under customary law.

Political Rights are severely restricted

Human rights, trade union and political activists face persistent harassment (at best) and are at risk of beatings, arrests, unfair trials on political charges, ill-treatment and torture. The perpetrators of these abuses are almost never brought to justice. Swaziland authorities are actively using the 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act and the 1938 Sedition and Subversive Activities Act to intimidate activists and restrict key human rights, such as freedom of expression and association. For example, on 1 May 2014, the president of the opposition party, PUDEMO, Mario Masuku, and student activist, Maxwell Dlamini, were arrested at a Workers’ Day rally and charged with terrorism and sedition for chanting a slogan and singing a song. Human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, and Nation newspaper editor, Bheki Makhubu, were sentenced to two years imprisonment in July 2014 for contempt of court after a grossly unfair trial merely for exercising peacefully their right to freedom of expression. Viva Swazi Vigil Viva!!!

By: Rainny Dlamini

References:

[1]. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland Act 2005, Page 25, Section 28, Rights and Freedoms of Women.

[2]. Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2014/15: The State of the World's Human Rights, 25 February 2015.