An extract from a statement made by OSISA – The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa – to the Ordinary Session African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at Banjul, The Gambia, April 2011.
April 12 is a very significant date in the political life of the people of Swaziland. It was on that date in 1973 that King Sobhuza stripped Swazis of their dignity by unilaterally abolishing the national Constitution and assuming supreme power. Even after promulgation of a new constitution in 2005, Swazis continue to live under the yoke of an absolute monarchy that has severely undermined human rights, separation of powers and the rule of law.
On 12 April 2011, trade unions and pro-democracy movements, sought to peacefully commemorate 38 years since the abrogation of the Constitution, and demand political and economic reforms. They demanded the immediate resignation of the government for corruption and poor governance, repeal of the unjust Suppression of Terrorism Act, unbanning of political parties as vehicles for political mobilisation and respect for freedoms of expression, association and assembly enshrined in the African Charter and sections 24, 25 and 26 of Swaziland’s own constitution. Not surprisingly, requests to hold peaceful protests were refused. Security forces violently suppressed protests, intimidated and arrested those who proceeded with the protests. More than 50 people including students, trade unionists, journalists and ordinary citizens were illegally detained, tortured and subjected to public beatings by security forces. This heavy-handed response to peaceful protests undermines the letter and spirit of the African Charter.
As King Mswati III and his inner circle enjoy the pomp and pageantry of the royal wedding in London, at no less than £450 per room per day - which is more than what most Swazis earn in a year - more than 80% of Swazis continue to eke out a miserable existence in conditions of extreme poverty and deprivation of basic human rights.
We urge the Commission to call upon the Government of Swaziland to: (i) unconditionally and immediately release all the protestors still under illegal custody; (ii) begin a national dialogue to address the long-standing human rights and governance deficits; (iii) stop unlawful searches, harassment and the use of force against trade union leaders and innocent and unarmed civilians by the security forces; and (iv) fulfil all its obligations under the African Charter to protect and promote the rights of its citizens.
We further request the Commission to undertake a promotional mission to Swaziland to investigate the human rights abuses and ascertain the government’s compliance with the findings and recommendations of the August 2006 promotional mission by the Commissioner responsible for the promotion of human rights in Swaziland, who is also the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa.