31 July 2014

Swaziland: Maseko Calls On U.S. to Sanction King

Photo: Nadia Neophytou
Swaziland protests.

Thulani Maseko, the human rights lawyer and journalist jailed for two years in Swaziland because he wrote a magazine article critical of the Swazi judiciary, has written from his jail cell at Sidvwashini Prison to US President Barack Obama, asking for the United States to impose sanctions against King Mswati III.

In the letter that was written while Maseko was awaiting trial, the lawyer quoted Obama himself who once said, 'I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.'

Maseko wrote to President Obama, 'We are happy that the American government, under your administration, has noted that these things are not available to the vast majority of the people of Swaziland.

They are not available because we are living under a dictatorship of a supreme monarchy that abuses the people's customary and traditional practices to stay in power. Yet we know that tradition and customary practices should not impede on basic human rights and fundamental freedoms and civil liberties. As far as we in the democratic progressive movement understand, human rights are God-given; they are inalienable, inherent, indivisible and inviolable.

'In the Kingdom of Swaziland, we live under an oppressive regime where it is said "rights and freedoms which we accept must not conflict with our traditions as the Swazi nation." Such a notion is obviously inconsistent with the rule of law, democracy and good governance.'

He added, 'Mr. President, in the context of Swaziland, dissenting and opposing voices are silenced, harassed and thrown into jail. The system of government is based on one man [King Mswati III] with all political authority, which is sanctioned by the constitution; this is the supreme law of the land.

Section 79 of the 2005 Constitution prohibits the lawful existence and recognition of political parties, which effectively undermines democracy and democratic governance.'

He added, 'President Obama, I believe that it is now generally accepted that no country can be a democracy when political parties are banned, and where basic human rights and fundamental freedoms are unreasonably restricted and contained. Such is the case in Swaziland.'

Maseko called on President Obama and the American people and partners around the globe to put pressure on King Mswati (who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch) to help put pressure on the King to agree on constitutional talks.

He also asked President Obama to influence countries of the European Union and the United Nations 'to take a firm stand on Swaziland'.

Maseko wrote, 'Our country exports huge amounts of sugar and beef to the countries of Europe; a threat to such a market will send shivers to the king, forcing him to reconsider his hardline positions.

'What is more, our King is very fond of traveling the world. We reckon it is about time for targeted sanctions against him and a select few members of his inner circle to be considered.'

He added, 'I am afraid that if democratic and progressive governments do not take a timely stand against the Swaziland monarchy, then we have the danger of a violent confrontation, due to the intransigence of His Majesty King Mswati III and his courts.'

Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, which circulated the letter on the Internet said it was 'a testament to not only his unwavering courage in the face of unconscionable repression, but to the spirit of all of Swaziland's people who yearn for democracy and the rule of law.'

Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights, said, 'Freedom of expression is a basic human right that must be protected. By violating Thulani's rights as a citizen, authorities in Swaziland have infringed on the rights of everyone, setting a horrible precedent in an already dire situation.'

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