CSO STATEMENT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE KINGDOM OF ESWATINI

> Freedom of Expression, Assembly and Association, Human Rights > Eswatini, Swaziland
Salc : Staff Writer

FOCUSSING ON CIVIL, POLITICAL and ECONOMIC RIGHTS

Presented at the 63rd session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights

Chair, honourable Commissioners of the AComHPR, State delegates, representatives of National Human Rights Institutions, members of Civil Society Organisations (CSO’s) and distinguished participants. The Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) welcomes the opportunity to present this joint statement on the situation of human rights in the Kingdom of Swaziland.

As concerned organisations working in the Kingdom of Eswatini, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, COSPE Onlus and the Foundation for Socio Economic Justice (FSEJ) in partnership with local CSO’s in the country recognise that Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights guarantees the right to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly, respectively. These rights are enshrined in several human rights instruments ratified by the Kingdom of Eswatini.

We are mindful that the ACHPR is entrusted with the duty of ensuring the full realisation and enjoyment of human rights in the African continent through its legal instruments and mechanisms to be integrated and enforced at the national and regional level.  In this regard, the Constitution of the Kingdom of Eswatini recognises and guarantees these rights.

This session follows a series of widespread attacks on workers and human rights defenders in Eswatini.  Despite legal protections of the rights of expression, association and assembly in Eswatini laws there have been serious violations and infringements of these rights in recent months preceding and following the September elections.

We highlight here some of the attacks that have occurred in 2018:

  1. On the 7th February 2018, wardens from the correctional services attacked a journalist for taking photo of their convoy; a group of rowdy officers from His Majesty’s Correctional Services attacked a photo journalist for taking pictures of their convoy. The correctional services officers who were travelling in an overloaded truck and two vans caught the attention of the public as they were packed like sardines in the truck and vehicles. The photo journalist from this publication who was headed to Kwaluseni to cover a purported boycott which was taking place there decided to snap some photos of the warders. This did not go down well with the officers as both the vehicles which were following the truck came to a halt. While everyone was surprised as to why the two cars had suddenly stopped in the middle of the road about 10 correctional officers from both cars sprang out asking why the journalist was taking pictures. The journalist asked the officers to calm down so that he could explain however the officers started grabbing the camera from the journalist who was still seated inside the car. More officers came to the car which was transporting the photo journalist and a reporter. Soon the road turned to a sea of green as officers blocked the vehicle demanding that the photo journalist hand over his camera. Some officers went to the extent of trying to snatch the camera from the journalist however the journalist held on to the camera as it was also strapped around his neck making it hard for the officers to take it.
  2. On the 12th February 2018, Ambrose Zwane, a journalist and Coordinator of the Swaziland Multimedia Community Network, reported that he had been denied participation on a TV show focussing on the World Radio Day on account of his political opinions. On the same day, he was also banned from being interviewed on a Radio program sponsored by UNESCO, called “Letisematseni”.
  3. On the 11th May 2018, activists were prevented from crossing the border to South Africa to join a march demanding the release of political prisoners; Mphandlana Shongwe and other activists were turned back by the Royal Eswatini Police personnel from participating in a boarder blockade organized by Congress of South African Trade Unions and its affiliates in partnership with the Peoples United Democratic Movement.
  4. On the 19th of June 2018 a social activist, Queen Shongwe, was banned from all live radio phoning programs for challenging poor delivery of water services by the management of the Eswatini Broadcasting Services;
  5. On the 29th of June 2018, a march by TUCOSWA members challenging increase of taxes and basic utilities, as well as forced evictions, was diverted and stopped after police fought with protesters, some of whom were injured;
  6. On the 24th of August 2018 the Swaziland National Association of Teachers – SNAT- held a meeting at the SNAT Centre to discuss the zero-increment of salaries offered by government. According to a petition delivered to the USA Embassy by SNAT and as reported in newspaper, “all of a sudden the Police opened fire on unarmed teachers wherein one of them (Willy Dlamini) was wounded”. Another teacher, Maxwell Myeni, reported to have approached and attempted to stop the police who were aiming guns with live rounds towards teachers. He was arrested the following day for “attacking the police officer holding a gun with live rounds” and charged with six counts;
  7. On the 28th August 2018, a second teacher was arrested while he was coming from the magistrate court in Manzini after the bail hearing of Maxwell Musa Myeni;
  8. On the 29th August 2018 nurses marching under the banner of Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU) to deliver a petition were reported to be attacked by security forces;
  9. On the 30th August 2018, a Times of Swaziland Journalist was attacked for taking pictures by Eswatini royal police force;
  10. Workers from different unions under the banner of TUCOSWA in a strike scheduled from the 18th to the 20th September 2018 in four towns on the country, had confrontations with the police in one of this town, Manzini, and have reported to be violently attacked and 6 of them were seriously injured. On the 19th of September 2018 the NATCOM decided the stop legal protected protest marches in force of the Public Order Act 2017;
  11. On the 21st of September 2018 on the evening of national elections, at Sigwe Inkundla under the Manzini Region, the Royal Police responded with force against community members who were protesting against the electoral process;
  12. On the 23rd of September 2018, the Attorney General’s Office took the Swaziland National Union of Teacher to the Industrial court to interdict a strike that was scheduled from the 25th to the 27th September 2018. The judgment read from the Industrial Court Judge reported: “The strike proposed by SNAT, though lawful, is deferred to November 23, to give the new government a chance to deal with the demands of SNAT. Should it become necessary for SNAT to commence a strike action, we shall give the new government new dates after November 23”. The court also ruled that the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) which commenced last week could not continue because the union had not given sufficient notice of the intention to continue. Both unions are seeking pay increases. This limitation of the rights of unions to protest is a concern. It is also a concern that the Swazi courts have refused to recognise and permit unions to organise protest action on frivolous grounds, and
  13. On the 04 October 2018 police influenced the Mbabane City council to withdraw the routes permit granted to the SWACOF and SUPMO to deliver a petition to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Economic Planning Ministry and Swaziland Energy Regulatory Authority. The police then forceful block the protest march utilising again the Public Order Act 2017.

At the same time, Government is not addressing the problems raised by the social protests that include high taxes and service costs, zero increments in the living wages for public servants, hospitals running out of food and medications for patients, uncurbed unemployment (64% of the youth) and poverty rate (over 63% of the population), in a general worsening of the economic situation vis a via unnecessary huge expenditures from government.

We recognise and applaud the work done by the ACHPR on recommendations made to Eswatini as contained in the press statement of the Former Chairperson of the Commission on 14 March 2014, calling for the state to engage in a law reform process to align the laws with the Constitution in an effort to conform to its international and regional obligations.

Civil society is gravely concerned with the noncompliance of Eswatini with Resolutions 216 and 266, with regard to the human rights situation in the country, pertaining fundamental freedoms and workers rights.

Political parties remain banned in Eswatini, in contravention of Article 13 of the Charter. Lack of political opposition in parliament means that there are limited checks on the powers of the executive. Lack of opposition also heightens possibilities that key legislative decisions, including decisions relating to the need to improve human rights, are taken with little debate. The country recently held national elections that do not comply with Resolution 216 with regard to conducting free and fair elections in 2013, which should have been implemented in 2018, at the least. The legitimacy and credibility of the elections in a democratic space is significantly hampered by the design of the constitutional powers and electoral mechanisms. The 2015 Constitution which introduced significant reforms, continues to ensure that the King maintains far more power than the electorate, making it very difficult for the electorate to hold parliament accountable. The King personally appoints the Prime Minister, the cabinet and two-thirds of members of the Senate.

Even in terms of gender equality the country failed in the recent elections to reach the 30% women quota and no structural programs are in place to remove the cultural and economic barriers that prevent women from equal participation and representation. As result, the Article 3 of the National strategy and action plan to end violence (2013-2018) on non-discrimination in the enjoyment of civil and political rights remain substantially not yet implemented.

The media landscape (Assessment of Media Development in Swaziland 2017 – UNESCO) is still dominated by a pervasive control in the ownership of the few existing radios, TV and newspapers, in the access to information and in the freedom of expression, contravening the Article 9 of the African Charter.

Forceful evictions of citizens by the state and big business continue to be carried out in the country, in contravention of Article 14 read with Article 21 of the Charter.  People are evicted and their homes demolished in the absence of adequate notice, genuine consultation and without adequate compensation, through an abuse of the court process and manipulation of non-documentation of land ownership rights due to the conflicts in the land tenure system of the land held in trust for the nation, by the King.

  1. In April 2018, people were evicted from Emphetseni area in Malkerns;
  2. Between September and October 2014, people were evicted from Nokwane area to pave way for the Royal Science and Technology Park;
  3. There are impending evictions in areas such as Vuvulane, Mbondzela and Sigombeni that have been reported and which civil society fears will be carried out forcefully and without alternative accommodation or compensation.

The Kingdom of Eswatini has only submitted one periodic report to the Commission in 2000, and has failed to submit any subsequent reports; particularly on implementation of the Charter and issues raised in resolutions and recommendations of Missions conducted in the country.

We therefore ask the Commission to consider:

  • Sending an urgent communication to the Kingdom of Eswatini appealing for the respect of the rights to freedom of peacefully assembly, ensuring that the public officers do not apply unjustified restrictions to strikes and protests and do not exercise any kind of intimidations, abuses and attacks against activists and human rights defenders.
  • Ask the Kingdom of Eswatini to stop any collective land eviction until adequate legal and procedural safeguards are in place to ensure that all evictions comply with international and regional human rights standards.
  • Urge the government of Eswatini to conduct training for police officials on their duties and responsibilities as well as proper implementation of the new Public Order Act and the Code of Good Practise on Gatherings issued in terms of section 28 of the Public Order Act.
  • Carry out a monitoring visit to the country to assess the situation of human rights in the country, including constitutional and law reform process to comply with the recommendations issued by the Commission and the UN Human Rights Committee. See paragraph 45 of the 2017 Concluding Observations of the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR/C/SWZ/CO/1).