Political violence and public protests led to a crackdown against critics of the government using the new Suppression of Terrorism Act. More than two-thirds of Swaziland’s population lived in poverty and two-fifths required food aid. Women and girls continued to be disproportionately affected by the country’s HIV pandemic, and by sexual violence. Police continued to use excessive force against peaceful demonstrators and workers on strike. Torture, other ill-treatment and the unjustified use of lethal force by law enforcement officials were reported.
The Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) was signed into law by the King in August, after a parliamentary process involving little public input. The STA’s broad definition of “terrorist act” fails to meet the requirements of legality. Offences created under the Act excessively restrict a wide range of human rights, including freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of expression; freedom of association; and freedom of assembly. The STA limits the role of the courts and allows for seven days’ incommunicado detention without charge or trial.
On 19 September national parliamentary elections were held, based on the traditional tinkhundla system. Electoral observers expressed concern about the credibility of the process; political parties were denied formal recognition and the right to participate in elections. Judgement was still pending in a case brought by the Coalition of Concerned Civic Organizations against their exclusion from voter education. Several large-scale protest demonstrations, led by the trade union movement, took place before the elections. Following the elections the King appointed a new government under Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini.
"There were persistent reports of criminal suspects being tortured, particularly at certain police stations."
On 20 September, Musa Dlamini and South African national Jack Govender were killed while planting a bomb near one of the King’s residences. A third man, South African national Amos Mbedzi, was injured and taken into custody. Amos Mbedzi was allegedly tortured and subsequently made a statement to a magistrate while still in police custody and without access to a lawyer. On 24 September he was charged under the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, and on two other counts, and remanded to custody at Matsapha Maximum Prison. Subsequent remand hearings were conducted in the prison and not in open court. He was, however, given consular, legal and family access after his imprisonment.
On 15 November, the President of the opposition People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), Mario Masuku, was arrested, detained and charged under the STA in connection with a speech he allegedly made at Musa Dlamini’s funeral. The provision under which he was charged violated the principle of legality. In December the prosecution added an alternate sedition charge. His trial had not begun by the end of the year.
By the end of the year, 16 defendants charged in 2006 with treason had still not been brought to trial. The government had still not published by the end of 2008 the findings of a commission of inquiry into allegations that the 16 men were tortured in pre-trial custody.
Freedom of association, expression and assembly
On 14 November the Prime Minister declared four organizations to be “terrorist entities” under the STA: PUDEMO; the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO); the South African-based Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN); and the Swaziland People’s Liberation Army (Umbane). The STA limits the role of the courts in reviewing banning orders.
In the following weeks the activities of civil society organizations and media workers were subjected to surveillance, harassment and disruption.
The police, using their powers under the STA, took in for lengthy interrogations other members of political parties and civil society organizations. They were released uncharged but warned that they would be subject to further interrogations and possible charges.
Police and security forces
Police and other security officials continued to use excessive force against criminal suspects and unarmed demonstrators including trade unionists, members of the unrecognized police union, striking women textile workers and political organizations.
There were persistent reports of criminal suspects being tortured, particularly at certain police stations. Investigations did not result in perpetrators being brought to justice.
- On 8 August Musa Gamedze was shot in the back with a high velocity weapon by a game ranger in Mkhaya Game Reserve, owned by Big Game Parks, near his home in eSitjeni. A police investigation into his death did not lead to action against the alleged perpetrator. The Game Act allows game rangers to use “reasonable force” to arrest suspected poachers and game rangers have immunity from prosecution for actions under the Act. Civil society organizations appealed for an end to impunity for game rangers and steps to address the inequalities and poverty forcing rural people into poaching game to survive.
Right to health – people living with HIV and AIDS
The prevalence of HIV remained high, particularly among women. The National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA) noted that 34.6 per cent of young women attending antenatal clinics were HIV positive. UNAIDS/WHO estimated the prevalence among males aged 15 to 24 at 5.9 per cent and females at 22.6 per cent.
Only about 40 per cent of those needing life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ART) were actually receiving the treatment. However UNAIDS/WHO reported that the number of pregnant women living with HIV who received ART to prevent mother-to-child transmission had risen from under 600 in 2004 to 8,772, about three-fifths of those needing the treatment.
Over 40 per cent of Swaziland’s population required food aid, and approximately 69 per cent of people were living on less than US$1 a day. Poverty and lack of food continued to impede the ability of people living with HIV and AIDS to access health services and adhere to treatment.
Violence against women and girls
In January the head of the police Domestic Violence, Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Department stated that the department had investigated over 700 cases of rape of children and over 460 cases of rape of women in the previous two years. In April UNICEF published a study on violence against girls and young women which found that one in three of the women interviewed suffered sexual abuse as a child and one in four had experienced physical violence. The victim knew the perpetrator in 75 per cent of cases. Less than half of the incidents were reported to the authorities.
The government failed to complete the reform of marriage and property laws. The Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill, in draft since 2006, had still not been passed by the end of the year. The police complained that the delay in the passage of the legislation prevented courts from using facilities to hear evidence from vulnerable witnesses in cases of sexual violence.
In December, Swaziland voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.
Although the 2006 Constitution permits the use of capital punishment, no executions have been carried out since 1983. No new death sentences were imposed in 2008.
Two people remained under sentence of death.