Commonwealth must scrutinise Swaziland

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative demands action

Richard Lee's picture

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Strategic communications for WWF

August 17th, 2012

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and the global civil society network CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation have urged the Commonwealth to bring Swaziland under the scrutiny of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group for persistent and serious violations of Commonwealth values.

The two groups called for action because of the authorities' continual disregard for basic human rights, the rule of law and the principles of the Commonwealth.

A joint statement from CHRI and CIVICUS called on the global body to trigger 'action by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, a high level group that deals with serious or persistent breaches of the Commonwealth’s democratic and political values. Anything less indicates tacit approval for a regime that is increasingly moving further away from complying with the fundamental political principles of the Commonwealth.'

The call comes as Swaziland sinks deeper into economic, social and political crises and with 'elections' - or rather 'selections' given the ban on political parites - due in 2013.

"We are anxious that the stifling of basic freedoms, including the freedom of expression, is only likely to increase as the country gears up for elections," said the CHRI and CIVICUS.

The two organisations added that "it is apt to recall the last election observer report by the Commonwealth Expert Team in 2008 noted that the suppression of political rights undermined the credibility of the electoral process. There has been little change since then, and we call upon the Commonwealth to push for conditions on the ground that support an electoral process with genuine space for multi-party participation."

As a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Swaziland is required to abide by the Community’s principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. We draw attention to the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, which state that SADC members should ensure political tolerance, civic participation in the political process and freedom of association.

While Swaziland’s national constitution (2005) guarantees the rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly, these fundamental freedoms are weakened by contrary claw-back provisions that limit their exercise. Political parties are banned. Political activity that does not align itself with the regime is not tolerated. Political gatherings are regularly dispersed and publications critical of the regime are censored.

The lack of tolerance of dissent is evidenced by the de-registration of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland in April 2012, soon after it stated its intention to boycott the 2013 elections. Pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders are targeted using imprecise counter-terror legislation, including the Suppression of Terrorism Act (2008) and the draconian provisions of the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act (1938), which are regularly employed to inhibit the exercise of democratic and civic freedoms.

There is a strong perception of police impunity, as credible allegations of extra-judicial killings, torture and ill-treatment have not been adequately addressed.

In addition, the Swaziland media remains highly controlled by the state. The government is reported to have initiated plans to introduce new laws to censor radio programmes and reports that contradict the agenda of the government. 

CHRI and CIVICUS also highlighted their support for the resolution passed by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in May 2012, which called on Swaziland’s government to respect its human rights obligations, particularly the rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly - and urged the Swaziland government to take steps to guarantee credible elections in 2013.

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