Legal and constitutional developments
The independence of the judiciary and the ability of High Court judges to hear cases, in particular those involving constitutional law issues, were affected by delays in judicial appointments and the continued use of temporary contracts. The High Court was reduced to just one permanent judge by February. In March the Law Society of Swaziland welcomed signs of improvement when the King confirmed the appointment on permanent contracts of two judges to the High Court and one to the Industrial Court. In June retired Malawian judge Richard Banda was sworn in as Chief Justice, on a temporary basis.
In November the High Court dismissed an application brought in 2006 by the National Constitutional Assembly, trade union officials and others challenging the validity of the Constitution. The hearing had been delayed by the shortage of judges. A High Court ruling on the legality of registering political parties under the Constitution was still pending at the end of the year. Attempts by members of the police and correctional services to form trade unions were opposed by the authorities. The High Court had not ruled by the end of 2007 on an application by Khanyakweze Mhlanga and the Swaziland Police Union for an order confirming the constitutionality of their union’s registration.
Commonwealth experts visited Swaziland to assist the review and reform of laws not in compliance with the Constitution and international standards. They also assisted in furthering the process towards the establishment of a human rights commission, required under the Constitution.
Legislation intended to give effect to the gender equality provisions of the 2006 Constitution, such as the draft Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill and draft Marriage Bill, had still not been enacted by the end of the year.
Human rights violations by law enforcement officials
Police continued to use excessive force against criminal suspects and against peaceful demonstrators including members of trade unions and political organizations. Police who committed human rights violations were not brought to justice.
- On 11 August, police from the Serious Crimes Unit shot dead Ntokozo Ngozo, who had told a journalist a week earlier that the police intended to kill him. According to witnesses, police called for him to come out of a house in the Makhosini area and he emerged naked to the waist with his hands in the air. He was shot in the thigh, abdomen and back at close range. Police delayed taking him to hospital. The initial police statement that he had been shot running away was inconsistent with the medical evidence. Witnesses complained that they had been assaulted by police, including Nsizwa Mhlanga, who was arrested and held until 16 August without being brought before a court. He was eventually released on bail pending possible charges. No inquiry into the shooting of Ntokozo Ngozo had been announced by the end of the year.
- In April police forcibly dispersed supporters of the opposition People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) involved in a demonstration at Swaziland’s border posts on the anniversary of the 1973 decree which had banned political parties. Protesters who refused to disperse were bundled into vehicles and removed, including George Hleta, who was grabbed by five armed police officers, one of whom throttled him before he was pushed into a police van. Six arrested PUDEMO members were charged with sedition, apparently on account of the wording on their banners, and held for 12 days. Five had the charges dropped and were released after paying an admission-of-guilt fine for “jaywalking”. However, Sicelo Vilane was held for a further three weeks before being released on bail. He had not been brought to trial on the sedition charge by the end of 2007. At the time of his arrest he was still receiving medical treatment for injuries and health problems resulting from being assaulted in police custody in 2006.
- In September the Prime Minister received the report of the one-person commission of inquiry established after the High Court in March 2006 ordered the government to investigate allegations of torture made by 16 defendants charged with treason. The government had not published the inquiry’s findings by the end of the year.
Violations of the right to fair trial
By the end of the year, 16 defendants charged in 2006 with treason and other offences had still not been brought to trial. The state’s appeal on a technicality against the March 2006 High Court ruling granting the defendants conditional bail had still not been heard. The accused remained under restrictive bail conditions.
Health – people living with HIV/AIDS
More than one in four adults aged 15-49 (26 per cent) were infected with HIV, according to information released in June by the Central Statistical Office, citing findings of a Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) conducted between July 2006 and February 2007. Forty-nine per cent of women between the ages of 25 and 29 were found to be infected, while the highest infection rate for men, 45 per cent, occurred between the ages of 35 and 39.
In October a report published by the National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA) with a South African partner found that among the nearly quarter of a million people living with HIV, only 28 per cent of those clinically needing antiretroviral treatment (ART) were receiving it.
Approximately 40 per cent of Swaziland’s population required food aid, with an increase since 2006 in the number of individuals not eating for an entire day. At least 69 per cent of the population were living in poverty. Poverty and limited access to adequate daily food continued to impede the ability of people living with HIV and AIDS to access health services and adhere to treatment.
Advocacy and humanitarian organizations continued to lobby government and donors for resources to be directed at addressing the crisis. Members of Parliament and the Swaziland National Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS urged the government in November to provide monthly grants to improve access to treatment and care.
The DHS report found that 35 per cent of children were either orphaned or classified as “vulnerable” because their parents or carers were sick or dying and they lacked secure access to health care, education, food, clothing, psychosocial care or shelter. Some were classified as vulnerable because they were at risk of sexual or physical abuse.
The Swaziland National Association of Teachers sought an order in the High Court in 2006 to compel the government to pay schools to give orphans and other vulnerable children access to education. Although the case was not heard, in November the government reported to Parliament that, with NERCHA's support, it had paid funds to 187 schools towards educating orphaned and vulnerable children.
Violence against women
The number of reported incidents of rape and other forms of gender-based violence continued to rise. The Commissioner of Police reported in January that cases had increased by 15 per cent in 2006 compared with the preceding year. At the end of the year Superintendent Leckinah Magagula, head of the Domestic Violence, Sexual Offences and Child Abuse unit, reported that the unit had recorded 707 cases of child rape and 463 cases of rapes of adult women in 2006 and 2007. The service-providing organization, the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA), reported in April that it had received 2,414 cases of abuse in the preceding year, including incidents of emotional, financial, physical and sexual abuse.
In September UNICEF published preliminary findings of a study of violence against girls and young women aged between 13 and 24. One in three surveyed had experienced some form of sexual violence before the age of 18. In addition, one in six girls between 13 and 17 and one in four women between 18 and 24 had experienced sexual violence in the preceding year.
In April UN agencies and the NGO Gender Consortium, with the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, launched a year-long campaign against gender-based violence.
There were continuing improvements in the police response to crimes of sexual violence through the work of the specialist Domestic Violence, Sexual Offences and Child Abuse unit in co-operation with SWAGAA. However, access to justice for survivors was still hampered by lack of training for medical practitioners, the failure to reform forensic medical documentation systems and delays in the reform of the legal framework and procedures in rape trials.
Swaziland abstained in the December UN General Assembly vote on a resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions.
Although the 2006 Constitution permits the use of capital punishment, no executions have been carried out since July 1983. No new death sentences were imposed in 2007.