JOHANNESBURG – Regional and continental legal bodies have condemned the suspension of Swazi High Court Justice, Thomas Masuku, and demanded his immediate reinstatement – as well as urging South Africa to carefully reconsider any financial support for the country in light of this latest assault on the judiciary and the rule of law in Swaziland.
“The unjustified suspension of Justice Masuku seems to be part of a concerted campaign by the authorities to intimidate and silence anyone who does not toe the line,” said Arnold Tsunga, Director of the Africa Programme of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). “Judge Masuku’s record in Swaziland and Botswana speaks for itself – and it seems clear that he is being targeted because of his independence and because of his firm belief in the rule of law and separation of powers.”
Along with the ICJ, the Southern African Development Community Lawyers Association (SADC LA) and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) have called on the Swazi authorities to end the unwarranted disciplinary process against Masuku and restore him to his rightful place on the bench.
Last week, the Chief Justice suspended Masuku pending a hearing in August into 12 ludicrous charges that he had laid against him, including ‘insulting the king’ and ‘actively associating with those who want to bring about unlawful change to the regime’. The hearing will be before the Judicial Services Commission, which is headed by the Chief Justice himself.
“If Justice Masuku is dismissed from the bench, Swaziland’s judicial system will be dealt another severe blow,” said Makanatsa Makonese, director of SADC LA. “These charges are so baseless that they clearly point to a political motive and personal vendetta behind the Chief Justice’s actions – as well as utter contempt for due process and the rule of law.”
The spurious charges against Judge Masuku form part of a broader assault on judicial independence in Swaziland – launched not by another arm of government but from within the judiciary itself, and directed by the Chief Justice.
In June, the Chief Justice issued controversial practice directives insisting that no legal suit could be brought against the Swazi king either directly or indirectly. These directives amount to a fundamental denial of access to justice and an abdication of the judiciary’s role.
This all comes as the Swazi authorities are begging for funds from South Africa to stave off an imminent financial crisis. All major international lenders have already refused to loan money to Swaziland unless it abides by specific conditions relating to governance, accountability and spending cuts.
“South Africa should link any bail out to a firm commitment from the Swazi authorities to adhere to the rule of law and to respect human rights,” said Nicole Fritz, Director of SALC. “If South Africa hands over funds without conditions, then the Swazi authorities will continue to act with contempt for international norms and standards, Justice Masuku will be unlawfully dismissed and the rule of law in Swaziland will be fatally undermined.”