Swaziland's discrimination against LGBTI people is being put under scrutiny by a United Nations group.
Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2004, which protects the rights of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people among others.
Now, after making no progress, Swaziland has been given a series of questions to answer by the ICCPR Human Rights Committee ahead of a review in July 2017.
ICCPR wants to know what measures in law and practice are in place 'to protect persons from discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including in housing and employment, and to promote tolerance'.
It added, 'Please provide information on complaints regarding violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and any investigations and prosecutions pursued, punishments imposed on offenders and reparations to victims.'
It also wants to know when same-sex relationships between men will be legalised in Swaziland.
Discrimination against LGBTI people in Swaziland is rife. In May 2016, Rock of Hope, which campaigns for LGBTI equality in Swaziland, reported to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review on Swaziland that laws, social stigma and prejudice prevented LGBTI organisations from operating freely.
It stated, 'As a result, the few organisations that seek to advance the rights and welfare of LGBTI people, such as House of Our Pride and Rock of Hope, are forced to operate under a fiscal sponsor, usually a larger organisation dealing with HIV/AIDS or gender issues to avoid official scrutiny. Rock of Hope which has been successful at acquiring formal registration did so under a cloud of fear to fully disclose their full mandate and nature of their beneficiaries being LGBTI persons whose existence is denied and prohibited by the state.'
The report to the UNUPR was presented by Rock of Hope jointly with three South African-based organisations.
The report added, 'In Swaziland sexual health rights of LGBTI are not protected. There is inequality in the access to general health care, gender affirming health care as opposed to sex affirming health care and sexual reproductive health care and rights of these persons. HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care services continue to be hetero-normative in nature only providing for specific care for men born as male and women born as female, thereby leaving out trans men and women as an unprotected population which continues to render the state's efforts at addressing the spread and incidence of HIV within general society futile.'
The report added, 'There is no legislation recognizing LGBTIs or protecting the right to a non-heterosexual orientation and gender identity and as a result LGBTI cannot be open about their orientation or gender identity for fear of rejection and discrimination. For example, the Marriage Act, only recognizes a marriage or a union between a man and a woman. Because of the absence of a law allowing homosexuals to conclude neither marriage nor civil unions, same-sex partners cannot adopt children in Swaziland.'
In 2011, HOOP (House of Our Pride), a support group for LGBTI people in Swaziland, reported to the United Nations that discrimination against LGBTI people in the kingdom was rife and extended to workplaces, the churches and even on to the streets.
In a submission to the United Nations Universal Review on human rights in Swaziland, HOOP said, 'It is a common scene for LGBTI to be verbally insulted by by-passers in public places. [There is] defamatory name calling and people yelling out to see a LGBTI person's reproductive part are some of the issues facing LGBTI in Swaziland.'
'Faith houses have been known to discriminate against LGBTI, advocating for the alienation of LGBTI in the family and society, while maintaining that these LGBTI are possessed by demons.'
In one of the first reports of its kind detailing sexual orientation discrimination in Swaziland, HOOP revealed, 'LGBTI are hugely discriminated against in the community, as they are not recognized at community meetings and their points are often not minuted at these meetings nor are they allowed to take part in community services.'
Police often ridicule LGBTI people if they report they have been victims of violent crime.
In its 2016 report to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review, Rock of Hope made seven recommendations to the Swazi Government, including to review laws that undermine LGBTI persons' rights in particular and human rights in general especially as they conflict with the Constitution; and to ensure prosecution of State agents who commit human rights violations against LGBTI individuals and their organizations.