Johannesburg, 12 November – In a letter to Swaziland’s Prime Minister, 25 organisations called on the government to amend the reviled and unconstitutional Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA), which has been used to target opposition leaders and activists rather than ‘terrorists’ since its enactment in 2008.
“Instead of being narrowly used to target real terrorist threats, the STA is routinely used to suppress legitimate political speech in violation of fundamental rights that are guaranteed under the Swazi Constitution, including the rights to personal liberty, freedom of expression and freedom of association,” said Musa Hlophe, Chairperson of the Swazi Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations.
The local, regional, and international organisations are calling on the government to amend the STA so as to bring it into line with the Swazi Constitution. In particular, the organisations have urged the authorities to narrow the STA’s overly broad definition of ‘terrorist act’ and ensure that there is fair and adequate opportunity for organisations that are designated as ‘terrorist groups’ to challenge that classification.
In June, the then Minister of Labour and Social Security, Lutfo Dlamini, promised that the government would narrow the definition of ‘terrorist act’. However, the authorities have shown no sign of fulfilling this pledge.
“The Attorney General and the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs are given wide discretion to classify an organisation as a terrorist group,” said Simon Delaney, Media Law consultant at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, which is one of the signatories to the letter. “There is a strong risk of incorrect identification as officials need only have reasonable grounds to believe that the group is engaging in terrorist activity – which is an impermissibly low standard. And groups have little recourse when they are designated.”
In addition to its constitutional obligations, Swaziland is a signatory to a number of international treaties, which place obligations on the country to ensure that its legislation, including the STA, adheres to international norms and standards.
“Although counter-terrorism measures are vitally important in any country, these measures must still adhere to domestic and international human rights law and comply with international standards,” said Sipho Gumedze, of Lawyers for Human Rights (Swaziland). “However, the STA fails this test. It is time that it was thoroughly overhauled.”
The letter can be accessed here.
The following organisations have signed the letter:
Coalition of Informal Economic Associations of Swaziland
Constituent Assembly of Civil Society Organizations
Concerned Christian Church Leaders
Council of Swaziland Churches
Foundation for Economic and Social Justice
Human Rights Institute – International Bar Association
Human Rights Watch
Lawyers for Human Rights (Swaziland)
Legal Assistance Centre
Luvatsi Youth Empowerment
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Swaziland Chapter)
Southern Africa Litigation Centre
Swaziland Agricultural and plantations Workers Union
Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organizations (SCCCO)
Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC)
Swaziland National Association of Teachers
Swaziland National Union of Students
Swaziland Positive Living
Swaziland Rural Women’s Association
Swaziland United Democratic Front
Swaziland Youth in Action
Swaziland Young Women’s Network
Trade Union Congress of Swaziland
Women For Women
Women in Law in Southern Africa (Swaziland Chapter)
Issued by: The Southern Africa Litigation Centre
Further info: Simon Delaney, SALC Media Law Consultant: +27 83 397 0057; firstname.lastname@example.org
Musa Hlophe, Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations: +268 765 40 647; email@example.com
Sipho Gumedze, Lawyers for Human Rights (Swaziland): +268 25052763; firstname.lastname@example.org