Swaziland: 'Drastic Deterioration' in Swaziland Human Rights, United Nations' Investigation Told

Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) flag.

There has been a 'drastic deterioration' in human rights in Swaziland (eSwatini), a United Nations group investigating the kingdom, ruled by absolute monarch King Mswati III, was told.

Human Rights Watch said since the 1973 Royal Decree, 'political parties are banned, the judiciary is severely compromised, and repressive laws have been used to target independent organizations and harass civil society activists'.

In a submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland, Human Rights Watch said, 'There has been no progress on essential rights reforms, including the removal of all legislative and practical restrictions to free exercise of civil and political rights, in particular those related to freedom of association and expression to allow the registration and operation of political parties; introducing greater political freedoms through free, fair, transparent democratic elections; ensuring the right to health without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity; abolition of the death penalty; and decriminalization of same-sex relations and prevention of discrimination based on marital status and sexual orientation.

'The government has yet to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, despite previously agreeing to do so.'

Human Rights Watch added, 'The government has yet to repeal, or amend as appropriate, a number of repressive laws that restrict basic rights to freedom of association and assembly, despite these rights also being guaranteed in eSwatini's 2005 constitution.

'Police have sweeping powers under the Public Order Act. The king's 1973 decree banning political parties remains in force despite repeated calls from local political activists to have it revoked. The constitution does not address the formation or role of political parties. Section 79 of the constitution provides that eSwatini practices an electoral system based on individual merit and excludes the participation of political parties in elections. Traditional leaders and chiefs have powers to restrict access to their areas, and have often used these powers to bar civil society groups and political groups like the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) and the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).'

It added, 'Restrictions on freedom of association and assembly continue. On October 20, 2020, the High Court heard a challenge by the eSwatini Sexual and Gender Minorities (ESGM), a human rights community-based advocacy organization which aims to advance the protection of human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and intersex persons. In September 2019, the eSwatini Registrar of Companies had refused to register ESGM as a company saying that "ESGM's objectives were unlawful because same-sex sexual acts are illegal in the country."'

Human Rights Watch is calling on the Swazi Government to guarantee freedoms of association, assembly, and expression, including freedom of association on the basis of sexual orientation and to revoke the king's 1973 decree on political parties, allow the registration and operation of political parties, and introduce multi-party democratic elections.

Earlier this month (March 2021) Freedom House in its annual report declared Swaziland was 'not free'.

It reported, 'The king exercises ultimate authority over all branches of the national government and effectively controls local governance through his influence over traditional chiefs. Political dissent and civic and labor activism are subject to harsh punishment under sedition and other laws. Additional human rights problems include impunity for security forces and discrimination against women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people.'

The Universal Periodic Review is a process through which all UN Member States are provided the opportunity to review the human rights records of all other Member States. At the same time, each State under review has the opportunity to report on human rights conditions within their own borders, including actions that have been taken to address concerns detailed by other States.

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