The rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly continued to be repressed. Security legislation was used to violate people’s rights. Police used excessive force against peaceful demonstrators. Torture and the unjustified use of lethal force by law enforcement officials were reported. Nearly 70 per cent of Swaziland’s population lived in poverty and a quarter of the population required food aid. Women and girls continued to be disproportionately affected by violence, poverty and the country’s HIV pandemic.
The new government that took office in October 2008 continued to respond to political opposition and dissent by using the 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA). In July, civil society organizations met in Manzini and called for greater protection of human rights, including rights linked to health, education, housing and security, and for an end to violence against women and the repeal of the STA. The government’s National Smart Partnership Dialogue, held in August, was criticized by political organizations and civil society for failing to be inclusive.
In September, the government announced the appointment of the Commission on Human Rights and Public Administration, which had been pending since the new Constitution came into force in 2006. However, the King appointed the Commissioners without enabling legislation and full public consultation or involvement in the nominations.
Delays in judicial appointments began to be addressed, but there were continuing concerns about effective guarantees of judicial independence.
Counter-terror and security
Despite growing domestic and international criticism, the government declared it would not amend the STA. The authorities also used other security legislation to arrest and prosecute government critics.
- On 3 June, human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko was arrested under the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, allegedly for uttering words “with a subversive intention” at a public gathering. Following court appearances, he was remanded into custody at Sidwashini Maximum Security Prison. On 10 June, his lawyers obtained a High Court order to allow him confidential legal access and two days later he was released on bail. No trial date had been set by the end of the year.
- In July, police arrested political activists Mphandlana Shongwe and Norman Xaba at a civil society gathering in Manzini, apparently for shouting slogans and wearing T-shirts associated with organizations proscribed as terrorist in 2008 under the STA. They were released on bail. No trial date had been set by the end of the year.
- On 21 September, on the first day of the trial, the High Court acquitted Mario Masuku, President of the proscribed People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), of a charge brought against him under the STA. The court found that the state’s evidence was either inadmissible or failed to prove the case.
- The trial of the remanded South African national Amos Mbedzi on subversion and other charges in connection with the attempted bombing of a bridge in 2008 was postponed until March 2010.
- Sixteen defendants charged in 2006 with treason in connection with bombing incidents were not brought to trial. They remained out of custody under conditional bail. The government had still not made public the report of an inquiry into their allegations of torture in pre-trial detention.
Freedom of association, expression and assembly
The sweeping and imprecise provisions of the STA and associated severe penalties continued to intimidate government critics. Civil society activists and government opponents reported increased incidents of harassment, searches and seizures of materials, and monitoring of electronic communications, telephone calls and meetings, some of which were disrupted by the police.
The media and journalists faced continuous pressure and some overt acts of intimidation. Police increasingly pressed journalists to name their sources and to refrain from publishing certain information which, under the STA, could associate them with the activities of organizations declared to be terrorist. The Times of Swaziland was pressured to stop publishing the weekly columns of a government critic, Mfomfo Nkhambule.
- On 21 May, the Supreme Court ruled, in a case brought by trade unions and political organizations, that there was no conflict between the right of Swazi citizens to form and join political parties under Section 25 of the Constitution, and Section 79, which allows participation in elections only on the basis of “individual merit”. A dissenting ruling, by Justice Thomas Masuku, had found that the substantive right to freedom of association protected under Section 25 was nullified by Section 79 and that this derogation could not be reasonably justified.
Torture and excessive use of force
Police and other security officials, including informal policing groups, continued to use excessive force against criminal suspects, political activists and unarmed demonstrators. Incidents of torture and other ill-treatment were also reported. The problem of impunity for such abuses remained unaddressed. Although the new Commissioner of Police, Isaac Magagula, stressed the need to respond to the public’s concern about crime without resorting to “police brutality” and limited police use of lethal force to circumstances where the lives of police or others were at risk, victims of police abuses continued to have no access to an independent complaints investigation body.
- On 16 April church and labour union organizers had to call off a march for free education after violence erupted. A breakaway group damaged property and assaulted a police officer. The security forces used disproportionate force against some demonstrators, including a man whom they beat with batons, kicked, strangled and stamped on apparently because he had insulted the national flag.
- On 4 September, Wandile Dludlu, president of SWAYOCO, the Swaziland Youth Congress, was unlawfully arrested by four police officers near the border with South Africa. He was taken to a forested area near Bhunya and interrogated about weapons while being subjected to repeated suffocation torture, with his hands and ankles tied tightly behind him. About seven hours later the police dumped him, uncharged, in Mbabane. He needed hospital treatment for injuries and psychological trauma consistent with his allegations. He lodged a criminal complaint against named police officers at Mbabane police station, but by the end of the year the investigation had not resulted in any arrests. He also lodged a civil claim for damages.
- On 21 September, Correctional Services security officers, without issuing a warning to disperse, assaulted political activists who had gathered peacefully to wait for the release of Mario Masuku (see above) from Matsapha Central Correctional facility. The security officers also demanded that journalists stop filming and photographing their actions. They seized cameras and other reporting equipment and verbally abused, threatened and physically assaulted several journalists. The police investigation into the incident had not resulted in any arrests by the end of the year. In addition, no publicly known steps were taken by the authorities against the Department of Correctional Services, despite public calls for an inquiry into the violence and the intimidation of media workers.
Poverty, HIV and the right to health
Swaziland’s HIV prevalence rate remained the highest in the world. Most recent available UNAIDS statistics indicated that 42 per cent of pregnant women attending antenatal clinics in 2008 were HIV positive. Access to antiretroviral treatment for AIDS continued to increase, but lack of access to adequate daily food, particularly in rural areas, continued to impede the ability of people living with AIDS to adhere to the treatment, which must be taken with food at regular intervals daily.
An estimated 256,383 people required food aid. Fifteen per cent of households were headed by orphaned children.
In October on World Poverty Day, the UN Resident Coordinator expressed concern that there were no signs of abatement in poverty levels.
Substantial gender differences in rates of poverty and HIV infection persisted, with women disproportionately affected and infected. Women continued to experience violations of their sexual and reproductive rights through violence or threats of violence from male partners refusing to use condoms.
In November, the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Swaziland was launched with official support. The maternal mortality ratio was estimated to be 370 per 100,000 live births in 2006.
Women’s and children’s rights
In March, the High Court ruled that the government was obliged, under the Constitution, to provide children with free primary school education. However, the Prime Minister stated that the ruling could only be implemented in phases from 2010.
Finalization of draft legislation affecting women’s right to equality under the law and on children’s rights continued to be delayed, despite the appointment of additional legislative drafters by the Ministry of Justice to speed up the reform of laws in conflict with the Constitution.
In October, parliament passed the People Trafficking and People Smuggling (Prohibition) Bill.
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 2009. Three people remained under sentence of death.
Amnesty International visit/reports
- Amnesty International delegates visited Swaziland in March.
- Swaziland: Suppression of Terrorism Act undermines human rights in Swaziland
- Swaziland: An atmosphere of intimidation – Counter-terrorism legislation used to silence dissent in Swaziland
- Swaziland: Amnesty International condemns use of excessive force against media workers and political activists by prison officials