16 May 2014

Swaziland: Swazi Human Rights Record Kills Agoa

Photo: Swazi Media Commentary
Teachers and other workers protested in Swaziland , appealing for an international asset freeze against King Mswati III (file photo).

Swaziland has been excluded from a lucrative trade deal with the United States because of its abysmal record on human rights.

The United States announced on Thursday (15 May 2014) that the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, had failed to retain its status under the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA). This means the kingdom will no longer receive preferential access to the US market.

US ambassador to Swaziland, Malika James said Swaziland had not fulfilled all the requirements of the programme, including respect for human rights.

Swaziland is allowed duty free trade with the US, which is used mainly for textile exports. However this arrangement will now lapse in January 2015. About 17,000 jobs in the textile industry may be under threat as a result.

James said in February 2014 that Swaziland had been given eight years to comply with the requirements but nothing significant had happened. The US set a deadline of 15 May 2014 for reforms to be made.

The US wanted Swaziland 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.'

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

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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InFocus

Swaziland Loses Agoa Status

Teachers and other workers protested in Swaziland , appealing for an international asset freeze against King Mswati III (file photo).

U.S. President Barack Obama has withdrawn Swaziland's eligibility after concerns about its implementation of criteria related to worker rights. Read more »