7 March 2014

Swaziland: Swazi PM Human Rights Smokescreen

Swaziland's Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini is trying to divert attention away from the kingdom's appalling human rights record by claiming opponents are telling lies.

Dlamini was reacting to news that the United States will no longer allow Swaziland to have trade benefits under the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) unless it makes substantial improvements in its treatment of workers and political opponents.

Swaziland has been given until 15 May 2014 to make the changes.

Dlamini told the Swazi House of Assembly this week that the United States had been lied to by Swazis who wrote letters with false information about the kingdom.

'These Swazis report false matters stating that there was no freedom of assembly among other freedoms,' the Times of Swaziland reported him saying.

But, what he did not say was that the issue of human rights violations in Swaziland is not new. US Ambassador to Swaziland Makila James told local media recently that Swaziland had been given eight years to comply with the requirements but nothing significant had happened.

The United States wants Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, to implement the full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA); full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.

James said that there needed to be greater accountability of the police force in Swaziland. 'There is a need to give police better guidance so they can do proper law enforcement.'

Local media in Swaziland estimated at least 20,000 jobs could be lost in the textile industry if the benefits of AGOA are lost. AGOA allows Swaziland to export goods into the United States without having to pay tariffs.

This is not the first time that Prime Minister Dlamini has falsely claimed there are no problems with human rights in Swaziland. When he was reappointed PM by King Mswati in 2013 he claimed, 'Government will ensure that the justice system is administered swiftly and efficiently and maintenance of law and order will be secured in accordance with the highest human rights standards.'

Dlamini was personally reappointed Prime Minister by King Mswati. He has never been elected to public office by the people.

In his previous three terms as PM, Dlamini rode roughshod over the rights of the Swazi people sending police and security forces to break up any prodemocracy activities in the kingdom.

International organisations have over the past year highlighted numerous human rights abuses.

In July 2013, AfriMAP, a group that monitors and promotes good governance, reported, 'The current form of governance in Swaziland is a complete anathema to the conventional wisdom that prevails in almost all AU [African Union] member states, and certainly in SADC [South African Development Community]; the issue of dictatorships, absolutism and total state control of the citizenry is a forgotten and unacceptable notion; which is why Swaziland government must realize that it cannot delay political reforms, since it will only undermine its credibility, delay progress, economic and social development of the very people it is supposed to uplift and protect.'

A report on human rights in Swaziland, published in 2013 by the US State Department revealed, 'The three main human rights abuses [in 2012] were police use of excessive force, including use of torture, beatings, and unlawful killings; restrictions on freedoms of association, assembly, and speech; and discrimination and abuse of women and children.

'Other human rights problems included arbitrary arrests and lengthy pretrial detention; arbitrary interference with privacy and home; prohibitions on political activity and harassment of political activists; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and persons with albinism; harassment of labor leaders; child labor; mob violence; and restrictions on worker rights.

'In general perpetrators acted with impunity, and the government took few or no steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses.'

In May 2013, in its annual report on Swaziland, Amnesty International reported, rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly continued to be violated in the kingdom. There were also 'arbitrary arrests and excessive force used to crush political protests,' the report stated, and 'torture and other ill-treatment remained a persistent concern' in Swaziland.

Amnesty noted that in May 2012 the African Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution 'expressing alarm' at the Swazi Government's failure to implement previous decisions and recommendations of the Commission relating to the rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly.

These violations included the use by police of, 'rubber bullets, tear gas and batons to break up demonstrations and gatherings viewed as illegal'.

In April 2013, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported that recently Swaziland police and state security forces had shown 'increasingly violent and abusive behaviour' that was leading to the 'militarization' of the kingdom.

OSISA told the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia, 'There are also reliable reports of a general militarization of the country through the deployment of the Swazi army, police and correctional services to clamp down on any peaceful protest action by labour or civil society organisations ahead of the country's undemocratic elections.'

In April 2013, the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), two organiastions campaigning for democracy in the kingdom, in a joint statement said police in Swaziland were now a 'private militia' with the sole purpose of serving the Royal regime. This was after about 80 armed officers broke up a public meeting to discuss the lack of democracy in the kingdom.

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