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Swaziland: No Democracy Allowed
Feb 6, 2006 (060206)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"King Mswati's time is up," headlined South Africa's Sunday Times last month after arrests and reports of torture of banned opposition party members in Swaziland. But with inauguration of a new constitution entrenching the powers of the monarchy, the prospects for democracy in this small country neighboring South Africa do not seem promising.
Despite popular discontent with the country's poverty, and the contrast with its ruler's lavish lifestyle, Swazis are reported to be afraid to speak out as well as preoccupied with immediate issues such as the high rate of AIDS. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and Amnesty International have condemned the stepped up repression, but there has been no public concern expressed by the South African government.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a statement from Amnesty International, two short background articles from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks, and a statement from the banned opposition party PUDEMO.
Ongoing information on the political situation in Swaziland can be found in the Swaziland Newsletter, published by Southern African Contact in Denmark, at
For additional background and links, see
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Swaziland: Persistent failure to call police to account
AI Index: AFR 55/001/2006 (Public)
News Service No: 017
20 January 2006
Amnesty International today renewed its call on the government of Swaziland to take immediate and visible steps to prevent the torture and unlawful killing of crime suspects and political opponents by the police.
In a letter to the Head of State, King Mswati III, Amnesty International expressed its concern that the government's failure to act against torture is persisting, contrary to the obligations of Swaziland under international and regional human rights treaties it has ratified and contrary to the new Constitution's Bill of Rights. The alleged torture of some of the detainees currently facing trial for treason is one more manifestation of the consequences of the government's long-standing failure to make the police accountable for their actions.
In failing to take measures to prevent torture or ill-treatment, to promptly and impartially investigate reports of torture or ill-treatment, or to bring suspected perpetrators to justice, the government is repeatedly ignoring the new Constitution's Bill of Rights, the findings of independent experts and coroners, the criticisms of police conduct made by judicial officials at trials, and court judgments upholding the claims for redress lodged by victims of human rights violations. It is also ignoring appeals made by civil society organizations for police conduct to be consistent with international human rights standards.
The government has also not followed through on assurances given to Amnesty International by the Prime Minister, the Hon. Absalom T Dlamini, during a meeting in February 2005 in London when he acknowledged that incidents of police brutality were occurring. He stated that the government would act on the recommendations -- then just released -- from the Coroner, who had investigated the death in custody of Mandlenkhosi Ngubeni. The Coroner found evidence that Mandlenkhosi Ngubeni and others with him had been subjected to torture involving suffocation methods. To Amnesty International's knowledge, no further investigations or prosecutions of suspected perpetrators have been carried out; on the contrary, the government has denied any liability for Mr Ngubeni's death in the civil case brought by the family.
In its letter, Amnesty International acknowledged to the King that his government has an obligation to protect public safety and investigate crime, including the series of petrol bombings of government infrastructure in late 2005. It made a similar acknowledgement in a letter to the Prime Minister on 16 December 2005. However Amnesty International emphasised that the fact that those incidents had caused injuries and property damage did not give the government and police carte blanche to flout the prohibition against torture in the new Constitution and under human rights treaties. The prohibition against torture or ill-treatment under international human rights law is absolute. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, including state of war or public emergency, can be invoked as a justification of torture or other ill-treatment.
Despite these obligations the government of Swaziland has failed to subject policing to a regime of rigorous oversight; systematic, prompt and impartial investigation of complaints; or the prosecution of police officers suspected of torture, gross negligence and unlawful killings. As a consequence of these failings, the police have been encouraged to act with recklessness and a sense of impunity in the conduct of their criminal investigations. As such, the human rights of all Swazis are being left unprotected.
In the wave of arrests since December, which led to the detention and charging of 16 people with treason and attempted murder in connection with the bombings, the police have allegedly tortured some of the detainees, so severely as to cause injuries -- fatal injuries in one case. Some of the allegations against the police have been made in open court, causing at least one magistrate to order the police to refer the victim to hospital for examination and treatment. The torture used included suffocation methods ("tubing"), which had been condemned by the Coroner in her findings in the Mandlenkhosi Ngubeni case 12 months earlier. Yet there are no visible indications that the government has ordered an independent, impartial and publicly-accountable inquiry into these claims. Nor do they appear to have ordered a Coroner's inquiry into the death of a young woman detainee, Fikile Fakudze, shortly after her release from police custody.
Amnesty International expressed concern to the King that evidence elicited as a result of torture or ill-treatment may be used by the trial court that will hear the case against the 16 accused. International law requires that any evidence -- including confessions by the accused -- elicited as a result of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment must not be used in any proceedings except those brought against the alleged perpetrators. Furthermore, as stated by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, "where allegations of torture or other forms of ill-treatment are raised by a defendant during trial, the burden of proof should shift to the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the confession was not obtained by unlawful means, including torture and similar ill-treatment."
In Amnesty International's letters to the King and the Prime Minister, the organization commended the actions of a senior police officer who had helped uphold the internationally recognized rights of the family of a young man, Charles Mabuza, who was unlawfully killed by police in May 2005. Police at the time blamed the deceased's brother for his death. The official post-mortem examination was conducted hastily and under pressure from police, without any recognition of the family's right to information and to have its own representative present at the procedure. Several days later, the senior police officer acted to ensure that the family, through their legal representative, could arrange for the holding of a second post-mortem examination by an independent medical specialist. The result of that second examination showed that the police were responsible for the death of Charles Mabuza. To Amnesty International's knowledge, the government has yet to bring to justice those responsible for his death or ensure that the family receives fair and adequate compensation.
Finally, Amnesty International appealed to the King and his government to condemn unambiguously acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as unlawful killings by the police, and to ensure that they conduct their operations in a manner consistent with Swaziland's obligations to promote and protect human rights. In taking these steps the government will also be acting more effectively to protect public safety.
Swaziland: Political activists flee as arrests continue
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
[The material may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]
MBABANE, 11 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - The ongoing arrests of members of an outlawed political party in connection with a series of petrol bombings is having a chilling effect on pro-democracy groups in Swaziland.
Well-known political activist Maphadlana Shongwe on Wednesday became the fifteenth person to be arrested. He has been charged with destruction of government property, attempted murder and high treason.
Shongwe, a member of the banned People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), has been an outspoken critic of Swaziland's absolute monarchy and a fixture in street demonstrations and anti-government marches.
"Nobody wants to talk anti-monarchy politics [anymore], or be associated with opposition political parties," said an official of a public health NGO. Like many other sources contacted by IRIN he did not want his name published.
Last month the Swazi media reported Shongwe's assertion that PUDEMO was responsible for the string of petrol bombings that have targeted the homes of government and police officials since mid-2005. In response, the police have rounded up members of the banned party.
"People have always discussed political matters in lowered voices - now people are silent, they are scared. It seems that some of the bombing suspects may be guilty only of being anti-government, and if that is what it takes to get arrested, naturally, people are very careful what they say," said one businessman in the commercial city of Manzini in central Swaziland.
The last treason trial in Swaziland took place in 2003, when PUDEMO president Mario Masuku was acquitted of sedition charges.
"Things are different today. With Mario, that was just one high-profile person. Now, first they arrested nine people, then 12, and now it's up to 15. Nobody knows when it is going to end," said a Manzini woman.
Few people admit to being members of opposition parties. The petrol bombing suspects' PUDEMO membership were only discovered after their arrest, with the exception of Shongwe and PUDEMO secretary-general Bonginkhosi Dlamini, who was taken into custody last week.
Kislon Shongwe, who stepped in as PUDEMO secretary-general after the detention of Dlamini, told the Swazi media that 35 party members had fled Swaziland in fear of arrest.
"The police detain just about anyone remotely associated with the organisation, including girlfriends of party members who have nothing to do with PUDEMO - hence, our members have decided to leave the country to neighbouring states in order to protect themselves and their families," secretary-general Shongwe said.
The wife of one of the arrested PUDEMO members died of internal injuries two days after she was interrogated by police. A PUDEMO statement claimed she was tortured, and Shongwe said Amnesty International had been notified.
If convicted of treason, the defendants face life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Swaziland: Year in Review 2005 - Constitution tests opposition's staying power
MBABANE, 11 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - The Swazi government will start 2006 with a publicity campaign for its new constitution, a document that has been at the centre of much controversy, but which few people have actually seen.
Signed in July by Swaziland's absolute monarch, King Mswati III, the constitution comes into force later this month. But legal commentators are still unsure whether its wording can be interpreted to legalise opposition political organisations.
Throughout 2005, analysts noted the constitution's split personality: the document is socially progressive, overturning centuries-old Swazi customs to permit equality for women, while on the other hand it is politically conservative, making no specific mention of the right of political parties to exist, and the absolute powers of the king, first assumed by Mswati's father in 1973, are also retained.
"What does it change politically? That is the main question," said Paul Shilubane, president of the Swaziland Law Society.
The king will continue to appoint the prime minister and cabinet, principal secretaries, chiefs and high court judges, and can dissolve parliament. A Bill of Rights mentions freedom of speech and assembly, but there is a caveat - all rights bestowed upon the Swazi people in the constitution can be abrogated by the king if he considers them to be in conflict with the public interest.
King Mswati, Prime Minister Themba Dlamini and other officials noted during the year that if faults were found in the constitution they could be handled through amendments. But for now, the government insists that the majority of Swazis like being ruled by a king and distrust political parties.
"We have every reason to be optimistic about the future under the new constitution, which was signed by His Majesty King Mswati III. The 'rule of law crisis' is over," asserted government spokesman Percy Simelane, referring to the king's refusal to accept earlier legal rulings aimed at limiting his powers.
Some special interest groups representing business, women, children and the elderly are sanguine about life under the new national law.
"We look forward to the enactment of the constitution - women will be able to own property, take out bank loans, sign contracts and assume the rights of adulthood for the first time," said Thab'sile Khumalo, a women's rights activist in the commercial city of Manzini.
Inclusion of the death penalty in the new constitution, at a time when neighbouring South Africa and Mozambique have abolished capital punishment, has drawn objections from human rights groups.
But the business community is happy with the constitution's protection of private property rights.
"This will be good for foreign investment in the country. We in business need such assurances," said a Swazi entrepreneur who works in the capital, Mbabane, but preferred not to divulge his name because he is part of a consortium that includes international partners and is planning to invest in the country's mining sector.
The contentious issue of mineral rights, which has put the issuing of mining and prospecting licenses on hold for years, is addressed in the constitution, potentially unlocking the nation's iron ore and diamond deposits. Tens of thousands of Swazi mine workers were retrenched in South Africa during recent years, and reopened mines would help ease an unemployment rate that climbed to 45 percent in 2005.
Despite the positive aspects of the document, Swaziland's pro-democracy movement was unrelenting in its hostility to the constitution, and the nine-year drafting process.
The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civil Organisations, an umbrella group of labour, human rights, legal and pro-democracy groups, described the constitution-making process as a palace-run operation that excluded input from progressive political forces.
But no "alternative constitution" was presented to the Swazi nation, though one was promised. "We will test the constitution by street action and court challenges," said Jan Sithole, Secretary-General of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU).
The federation failed to enlist the cooperation of its members, much less the general public, when it called for a national strike in January 2005 to protest the constitutional process.
A march on Lozitha Palace, 25 km east of Mbabane, was called in November by SFTU and its civil coalition partners, but organisers cancelled the demonstration when another poor turnout looked likely, and police warned that marchers would not be permitted anywhere near the palace.
"People are afraid of getting beaten and gassed by the police, and why shouldn't they be? What does it achieve?" said a student at the University of Swaziland, located near Lozitha Palace. The police had unleashed club-wielding Special Forces on students the month before, when they marched to the education ministry in Mbabane demanding the resumption of bursaries.
If 2005 saw no successful anti-government action on the part of pro-democracy groups, pro-government public displays were also absent.
Commentators say Swazis are more concerned with the crises in their own lives: two-thirds of Swazis live in chronic poverty, according to UNDP; the health ministry acknowledges that over 40 percent of sexually active Swazi adults are HIV positive; the number of orphans created after AIDS kills their parents will rise by at least 10 percent this year, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
"For most people, these were the issues of 2005, and they are the issues of 2006," commented a pastor, Albert Nxumalo. "Politics takes a back seat to survival for most Swazis today."
Press statement released by the National Executive Committee of PUDEMO (Prople's United Democratc Movement), 12 January 2006
Swaziland Newsletter 28, Jan 17, 2006
1. The Political Environment in Swaziland.
We are saddened to see the state to which political conditions in our country have deteriorated. The atmosphere we now live in is worse than in a police state where people live in fear and uncertainty of both present and future. We remind our fellow citizens of the king's Proclamation of 12th April 1973, where the present king's father unleashed a state of emergency, took control of the security forces and outlawed political freedom. We urge all Swazis to be calm, to view the authorities as the dictatorship and aristocracy they are. We shall, no matter what, overcome!
PUDEMO acknowledges that there has, in the last few months in particular, been a spate of bombings around the country. We regard these as signs and voices of a people tired of the tinkhundla regime. Because the state has reacted in the way it has, we will not judge the suspects. Suffice it to say that all of them are members of the peoples' organization and of our youth league, SWAYOCO. There is, at this stage, no evidence of their involvement in activities as outlined in the charges stated in the indictments, and we believe that the state is merely intent on destabilizing PUDEMO and its structures. The aim is to intimidate the suspects, members of their families, employers, institutions of education, and the communities they live in.
2. Our Solidarity with the Comrades. No matter the circumstances, the leadership of PUDEMO, the entire membership in our structures and Swazi citizens at large pledge our unconditional solidarity with these martyrs. To this end we are providing the best legal representation available at the organization's expense for ALL the accused. We, in addition, visit them wherever they are incarcerated to ensure that they are in good health and spiritual condition.
3. The Passing Away of LaFakudze wife to Mduduzi Mamba.
We condemn in the strongest terms possible the death of comrade Mduduzi Manba's wife, LaFakudze, who passed away immediately after interrogation and suspected torture by no less than eight members of the king's royal police force on the 29th December 2005 at Siphofaneni. The medical report says a lot about the possible cause of death. The police, led by the barbaric and notorious Khethokwakhe Ndlangamandla have said she was 'uncooperative' in their interrogations. How arrogant!
Further investigations and inquests shall be conducted to ascertain the actual cause of her death.
Under normal situations in a democratic country, one of whose hallmarks is an independent judiciary, we would have hoped that the smooth wheels of justice would take their course. This is, however, not the case in Swaziland where the executive and the head of state are notorious for a history of interference with the judiciary. The Zena Mahlangu, Macetjeni and kaMkhweli matters are but a few examples of this.
This is a political case where the intention is to crush and to silence the opposition in a state where the voices of the opposition is silenced even by the so-called new constitution. PUDEMO will continue to be the voice of the voiceless and oppressed, and calls for a proper national dialogue towards a truly democratic dispensation and the final liberation of our country. This we will carry out by all means at our disposal. We also call on the SADC, AU and the international community to sternly judge if our demands are unfounded. We, finally, call on our fellow citizens to rally behind their organization, making every school, church, workplace and community a site of struggle for our eventual liberation and the transfer of power to the people. Amandla!
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