28 June 2016

Swaziland: Swazi Game Rangers 'Shoot to Kill'

Photo: Swaziland Solidarity Network Forum
Swaziland anti-govt protests (file photo).

People are being shot and killed in Swaziland because they are suspected of poaching and game rangers are immune from prosecution, a United Nations review on human rights has been told.

The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) reported, 'There are numerous of cases where citizens are shot and killed by game rangers for alleged poaching as raised by community members in several communities such as Lubulini, Nkambeni, Nkhube, Malanti, Sigcaweni, and Siphocosini.

'In terms of Section 23 (3) [of the Game Act] game rangers are immune from prosecution for killing suspected poachers and empowered to use firearm in the execution of their duties and to search without warrant,' SCCCO told the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland in a report.

It added, 'For example, there is a case of Jika Jika Mabila and another, who were shot by the Mlawula game rangers for suspected poaching during the night inside the game reserve. The other died on the spot, and Jika Jika was hospitalised at the Good Shepard Hospital, as he shot on the leg, on the ribs, and on the left arm, and was eventually arrested.'

SCCCO recommended the Game Act be amended, 'to give effect to the full protection and realisation of the right to life and to allow for the prosecution of all perpetrators of extrajudicial killings.'

There has been concern in Swaziland for many years that game rangers have immunity from prosecution and can legally 'shoot-to-kill'.

In January 2014, Swaziland's Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula said rangers were allowed shoot people who are hunting for food to feed their hungry families.

Commissioner Magagula publicly stated, 'Animals are now protected by law and hunting is no longer a free-for-all, where anybody can just wake up to hunt game whenever they crave meat.'

He told a meeting of traditional leaders in Swaziland, 'Of course, it becomes very sad whenever one wakes up to reports that rangers have shot someone. These people are protected by law and it allows them to shoot, hence it would be very wise of one to shun away from trouble.'

His comments came after an impoverished unarmed local man, Thembinkosi Ngcamphalala, aged 21, died of gunshot wounds. He had been shot by a ranger outside of the Mkhaya Nature Reserve. His family, who live at Sigcaweni just outside the reserve's borders, said he had not been poaching.

Campaigners say poor people are not poaching large game, such as the endangered black rhinos, but go hunting animals, such as warthogs, as food to feed themselves and their families. Hunger and malnutrition are widespread in Swaziland where seven in ten of King Mswati's subjects live in abject poverty. Many are forced to become hunters and gatherers to avoid starvation.

King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, has given game rangers permission to shoot-to-kill people suspected of poaching wildlife on his land and protects them from prosecution for murder in some circumstances.

Ted Reilly, the chief executive of Big Game Parks (BGP), which owns and manages Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and Mkhaya Nature Reserve and also manages Hlane National Park, the kingdom's largest protected area, held in trust for the Nation by the King, holds a Royal Warrant to allow him to shoot-to-kill.

He has had this for at least twelve years. In 2004 Reilly appeared in a documentary produced by Journeyman Pictures in which he spoke of his relationship to the King and showed his warrant on camera.

The documentary commentator said, 'He [the King] gave Ted a Royal Warrant that allowed him to arrest and if necessary shoot-to-kill the poachers.'

The commentator added, 'The Royal Warrant, still in force today, protects rangers from prosecution for murder as long as the poacher draws his weapon first.'

Reilly said, 'It is the biggest honour that you could possibly imagine.'

Reilly showed the documentary makers a specially-made fort with gun turrets, where rangers can hide to shoot at poachers. He also showed surveillance towers. 'From here, we go out, we launch attacks,' he said.

On camera, Reilly said the automatic weapons his rangers used against poachers, 'are much smaller than the AK-47, but are equally as devastating. You don't survive one of those shots if it hits you properly.'

Reilly told the documentary, 'Our guys aren't to be messed with. If they [poachers] come after rhino they're going to get hurt, and if he gets killed or maimed, well, you know, who's to blame for that?'

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