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Friday, 24 June 2016

SWAZILAND FAILS ON FREEDOM PROMISE

Swaziland has failed in the promise it gave a United Nations review in 2011 to change laws in the kingdom relating to freedom of association and assembly so they met international standards, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections; only 55 members of the 65-seat House of Assembly are elected by the people and none of the 30-seat Senate.

In 2011 at a United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland, Swaziland agreed to “[a]lign the national legislation with international standards to guarantee freedom of assembly and association, in particular as regards the notification of the organization of peaceful assemblies.”    

In a report to the Working Group in May 2016, Human Rights Watch stated, ‘The [Swazi] government has yet to repeal, or amend as appropriate, a number of repressive laws that restrict basic rights guaranteed in Swaziland’s 2005 constitution, including freedom of association and assembly. On the contrary the government has intensified restrictions on these rights over the past four years.  The laws in need of amendment include the 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA), the 1938 Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, and the 1963 Public Order Act. 

‘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 Swaziland 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 territories, 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) from having meetings, recruiting, or any kind of presence in their areas. In 2011 PUDEMO challenged in court the government’s refusal to register political parties but the court said PUDEMO has no legal standing to approach the court as it did not exist as a legal entity.   

‘The Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) places severe restrictions on civil society organizations, religious groups, and the media because it includes in the definition of “terrorist act” a wide range of legitimate conduct such as criticism of government, enabling officials to use the provisions of the Act to target perceived opponents of the government. The government has also misused the STA to target independent organizations by accusing them of being “terrorist” groups, and harassed civil society activists through abusive surveillance and unlawful searches of homes and offices. 
 
‘Individuals who have been targeted for arrest or prosecution under the STA include the leaders of People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) who were arrested and detained under the STA in 2014. Police arrested PUDEMO leader Mario Masuku in May 2014, on terrorism charges for criticizing the government in a speech on May 1. At the time of writing Masuku was out of jail on bail pending the outcome of his trial. If convicted, he could serve up to 15 years in prison. 

‘Police used violence to halt May Day celebrations organized by trade unions in May 2013. In March 2015 police beat leaders of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers and prevented them from hold a meeting ostensibly because the discussions would have included calls for multi-party democracy.’

See also
RESPECT FOR SWAZI RULE OF LAW FAILS
‘OPPOSITION TO KING IS TERRORISM
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH ON SWAZILAND
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2012/02/human-rights-watch-on-swaziland.html

Thursday, 23 June 2016

BOY, 15, AMONG POLICE TORTURE VICTIMS

A 15-year-old boy was tortured by police in Swaziland after his mother reported him for stealing E85 (US$6). The boy said he was beaten with a metal blade and a club for five hours.

The case was just one of many reported to a United Nations review panel looking into human rights in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

A joint report by four organisations working to improve human rights stated, ‘In Mbabane [the Swazi capital], police tortured a 15-year-old boy after his mother had reported him for stealing E85.00. The boy alleges that he was beaten with a slasher (metal blade tool for cutting grass) and knobkerrie (club) for five hours. While enduring the pain, he alleges that he was made to count the strokes aloud for the police to hear. Instead of being charged, the boy was physically assaulted and made to sit in a chair for thirty minutes before he was sent back home.’

The report was submitted to the United Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland by the Swaziland Multi-Media Community Network, Swaziland Concerned Church Leaders, Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations and Constituent Assembly – Swaziland.

They also reported the case of Phumelela Mkhweli, a political activist who died after alleged assault by police after they arrested him. 

The report also stated, ‘In April 2011, a 66-year-old woman was confronted by three police officers regarding the wording on her t-shirt and headscarf. The police allegedly pulled off her T-shirt, throttled her, banged her head against the wall, sexually molested her, kicked her and threw her against a police truck.  

‘The US Department of State reported on many allegations of torture and ill-treatment by police; including beatings and temporary suffocation using rubber tube tied around the face, nose, and mouth, or plastic bags over the head, the report stated.  

There have been numerous reports of torture by police and military personnel in Swaziland over the past few years.

In July 2015, Swazi MP Titus Thwala reported that Swaziland soldiers beat up old ladies so badly they had to be taken to their homes in wheelbarrows. He said that elderly women were among the local residents who were regularly beaten by soldiers at informal crossing points between Swaziland and South Africa. Thwala said the soldiers made people do push ups and other exercises.

In 2011, a man was reportedly beaten with guns and tortured for three hours by soldiers who accused him of showing them disrespect. He was ordered to do press ups, frog jumps and told to run across a very busy road and was beaten with guns every time he tried to resist. His crime was that he tried to talk to a man whose vehicle was being searched by soldiers at Maphiveni.

The incident was one of many examples of soldiers being out of control in Swaziland. The Army, in effect, has a shoot-to-kill policy. In May 2011, three unarmed South African men were shot dead by Swazi soldiers when they were caught trying to smuggle four cows from Swaziland into the Republic.

In July 2011, three armed soldiers left a man for dead after he tried to help a woman they were beating up. And in a separate incident, a woman was beaten by two soldiers after she tried to stop them talking to her sister.

In January 2010 soldiers were warned that their attacks on civilians amounted to a ‘shoot to kill’ policy and this was unconstitutional. 

There have been many accounts of soldiers killing or beating up civilians, including a cold-blooded murder of two women accused of smuggling a car across the border with South Africa; a man who had five bullets pumped into his body after being beaten to a pulp; an attack on sex workers after three soldiers refused to pay them for their services; an attack by a bus load of soldiers on a security guard after he asked them to move their vehicle; and five drunk soldiers who terrorised two boys, smashing one of them to a pulp

See also

SWAZI ARMY’S IDEA OF PEACE
KING’S PAPER SUPPORTS POLICE TORTURE
ROUGH JUSTICE FOR SEX WORKERS
MORE POLICE TORTURE IN SWAZILAND
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2013/01/more-police-torture-in-swaziland.html

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

INNOCENT BOY, 11, LOCKED UP FOR 10 YEARS

Children as young as eleven years old are being incarcerated in juvenile correction facilities in Swaziland for up to ten years, even though they have committed no crimes.

And, the trend to lock innocent children up is increasing, a United Nations group examining human rights in Swaziland was told.

Parents collaborate with the Commissioner of Correctional Services in what was described as ‘the best interests of the child’.

A report submitted jointly to the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland April-May 2016 by SOS-Swaziland, Super Buddies, Prison Fellowship and Luvatsi – Swaziland Youth Empowerment Organisation, gave the example of one child aged 11.

Their report stated, ‘There is a growing trend of child and youth abuse done by the state and the parents purportedly in “the best interests of the child”. Children and youths are illegal incarcerated in prison centres by parents in collaboration with the Commissioner of Correctional Services who claims that the children are unruly. 

‘In one incident, Grace (not her real name) who is a single parent to John (not his real name) wrote a request letter to the Commissioner of Correctional Services requesting that John be incarcerated for unruly behaviour. In the letter, Grace states her concerns that eleven years old John might not finish school; hence her reason for wanting him incarcerated and attending the juvenile school at Malkerns Industrial School for Rehabilitation.

‘Responding to the same letter of request by Grace, the Commissioner of Correctional Services stated that under normal circumstances, they do not admit persons who have not been sentenced by the courts and directed therein through committal warrants. 

‘However, the Commissioner agreed to rehabilitate John under the stated conditions; that the 11 years old John is institutionalised at the juvenile school for 10 years; there is an order from a presiding officer giving him a custodial order of ten years without remission; and that he will cooperate with His Majesty’s Correctional Services while under its care. 

‘With that response, Grace [sic] the letter to a presiding officer who then wrote a custodial order for the stipulated time and John was admitted to the juvenile school in 2013. The 11 years old John lodges with other juveniles who have been charged by the court of law for various crimes they have committed. Grace pays tuition fees and up-keep fees for John, and she will continue doing so for the next ten years until 11 years old John is 21 years.  

‘This case is one of many, and the children are of different ages and varying backgrounds. It is only recently that a joint task team comprising of UNICEF, Prison Fellowship Swaziland, Lawyers for Human Rights-Swaziland, Save the Children Swaziland working together with the department of home affairs are exploring means to curb this situation and probably provide solutions for both the parents and children.’

In 2012, the Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland reported that Isaiah Mzuthini Ntshangase, Swaziland’s Correctional Services Commissioner, was encouraging parents to send their ‘unruly children’ to the facility if they thought they were badly behaved.

Ntshangase was speaking at the open day of the Juvenile Industrial School at the Mdutshane Correctional Institution. He told the newspaper, ‘Noticing the strife that parents go through when raising some of their children who are unruly, we decided to open our doors to assist them.’ 
The school not only corrected offenders but assisted ‘in the fight against crime by rooting out elements from a tender age’, the newspaper reported him saying. The children ‘will be locked up, rehabilitated and integrated back to society’, the Times reported.

The school accommodates pupils who were both in conflict with the law as well as delinquents, the Times said. There were 279 children locked up at the time of the interview.

The Times interviewed some of the inmates and found a 15-year-old girl locked up by her guardian because she had developed a relationship with a boyfriend that the guardian did not like.

Another girl interviewed was an orphan who ‘lived a town life’. She was reported saying, ‘In our dormitories which we share, we are deprived all the nice and good things.’ 

She added the rules at the institution were tough, ‘This place is not for the faint-hearted because you lose a lot of privileges that are freely accessible outside. There is neither clubbing, drinking nor time for boys.’

One unemployed father of an 11-year-old boy said he put his son in the facility because he did not have money to pay school fees. ‘I am grateful that my son is in school. I cannot afford his education because I am old. My wish is that he finishes school to earn a decent living,’ he said.

The guardian of one girl said before she was admitted at the school, she had not been able to contain her behaviour. ‘My biggest problem was that I had lost her. She dropped out of school together with my niece (sister’s daughter) who is an orphan,’ she said.

Children reported that they were not beaten but they were badly fed, getting their supper at around 3pm, which meant they went to bed hungry.

This was not the first time the Swazi juvenile correction facility had been under the spotlight.

In August 2010, it was revealed that a 12-year-old boy was serving one year in Mdutshane because he insulted his grandmother. He had been sentenced to an E300 fine (about US$40), but was too poor to pay so was jailed instead.

See also

BOY, 12, JAILED FOR INSULTING GRANNY
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2010/08/boy-12-jailed-for-insulting-granny.html

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

SWAZI LGBTI PEOPLE LIVE IN FEAR

A gay club has been formed in the Northern Hhohho region of Swaziland to help tackle prejudice in the kingdom.

‘The motivation to form the gay club is to address stigmatisation suffered by homosexuals who cannot find immediate safety amongst their peers, parents and the community at large,’ the Swazi Observer newspaper reported on Monday (20 June 2016).

The newspaper reported club president Nkhosinati ‘Fly’ Dlamini saying, ‘We want to inform our immediate family members and friends that we are here and proud. They must also know that we are not sick or confused it is just that we are people who want our basic human rights. We don’t want to live in fear.’

The move comes shortly after a searing condemnation of Swaziland’s violation of the rights of LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) people was made to a United Nations group.

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, ‘LGBTIs are discriminated and condemned openly by society. This is manifest in negative statements uttered by influential people in society e.g., religious, traditional and political leaders. Traditionalists and conservative Christians view LGBTIs as against Swazi tradition and religion. There have been several incidents where traditionalists and religious leaders have issued negative statements about lesbians.   

‘Human rights abuses and violations against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex population continue to go undocumented, unreported, unprosecuted and not addressed.’

It 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.’

The report 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.   

See also

LESBIAN AND GAY MURDERS IN SWAZILAND
           
SWAZI MINISTER LIES TO UN ON GAYS
GAY PREJUDICE RIFE IN SWAZILAND
COMMUNITY POLICE BANISH GAY MEN

Monday, 20 June 2016

SWAZI ALBINOS DEMAND GOVT PROTECTION

Albino people in Swaziland have called on the Government to protect them because they say they are ‘hunted down like animals’.

The call came on Friday (17 June 2016) during a march to raise awareness of the albino’s plight.

The Swazi News reported, ‘The message was loud and clear that government should put in place policies to protect people living with albinism; who are always on the run, as they are hunted down like animals.’

People living with albinism took to the streets in Mbabane, the kingdom’s capital, as part of a global campaign to raise awareness.

People living with albinism are often hunted down and ritually killed in Swaziland and their body parts used in witchcraft.

During the national elections in Swaziland in 2013, albinos lived in fear that their body parts would be harvested by candidates seeking good luck. 

Independent Newspapers in South Africa reported at the time, ‘In the past albinos, who lack the skin pigment melanin, as well as epileptics have been specifically targeted, prompting the police to set up registries. 

‘In 2010, the killing and mutilation of albinos, including in one instance the decapitation of two children in Nhlangano, prompted panic. 

‘Twenty-eight-year-old Sipho Dlamini said such albino killings regularly take place, but in the past were masked by rumours about albino behaviour. 

‘“People were told that when an albino dies, he would go and die far away where he or she would not be found. I think they were killed,” he said.’

Friday, 17 June 2016

BOTSWANA SUPPORTS SWAZILAND AT ILO

The Botswana Government has been accused by trade unionists in that country of supporting Swaziland’s violation of workers’ rights.
 
Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) said members were shocked when Botswana supported Swaziland, a fellow member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), at the recent International Labour Conference (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Mmegi newspaper in Botswana reported on Wednesday (15 June 2016) that BFTU president Bohithetswe Lentswe said that the government of Swaziland appeared before the committee of application of standards for violation of right to organise and collective bargaining and right to freedom of association and protection of the right to organise.

Lentswe said that Botswana speaking on behalf of SADC as the chair of the regional bloc said that there is no need for any intervention from the ILO as it noted progress in addressing the issues by both governments.

In the Swaziland case, Lentswe said that it was noted that it was the seventh consecutive time the case was discussed in the conference committee and the kingdom had been examined 14 times, but Botswana government again said that the Swaziland government was progressing to implement the convention.

In Swaziland political parties are banned and King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. King Mswati will take over the chair of SADC in August 2016.

Lentswe added, “The Botswana government noted with satisfaction the significant progress made by the convention as amendments have been tabled in Swaziland parliament to create a conducive environment for effective social dialogue while saying this was evidenced by the registration of federations of trade unions. Botswana expressed confidence that SADC would address the issues.”

Lentswe said that this was wrong coming from SADC chair. He said as the World of Work actors, they strongly believe in social dialogue and condemn the decision of Botswana to condone “bad-boy behaviour”. 

Lentswe said that the situation in Swaziland was bad and needed ILO intervention as the government continued to violate the fundamental right of freedom of association and protection of the right to organise. He further said that they were happy that the conference heeded their plea for intervention to send a commission to assess the situation in the kingdom.

See also

ILO URGES SWAZI WORKERS REFORM
SWAZILAND IN TOP TEN WORST FOR WORKERS

Thursday, 16 June 2016

‘OBSERVER’ HIDES KING’S MTN LINKS

The Swazi Observer has hidden the links between King Mswati III and MTN in its extensive coverage of the cell phone service provider in recent days.

The Observer, which is in effect owned by King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has devoted acres of space to MTN, which has the monopoly of cell phone business in the kingdom.

On Wednesday (15 June 2016), the Observer reported as its main story on its front page the ‘news’ that MTN was scrapping scratch cards for lower denominations of airtime, but people would still be able to top-up their phones from street vendors.

The story ran over pages two and three and was written by the Observer chief editor Mbongeni Mbingo.

On previous days it had devoted pages and pages to the so-called ‘21 Days of Y’ello Care’, which is an ongoing promotion of the company that relies on its staff volunteering time and money for good causes. This year the focus is on education.

What the Observer did not tell its readers was that King Mswati has a large personal financial stake in the company. He owns 10 percent of the shares and is considered by MTN to be an ‘esteemed shareholder’ in the company.

MTN has been the monopoly mobile provider in Swaziland since 1998 and services are provided in a joint venture between MTN, the Swazi Government and the Royal Family.

The King’s income from MTN is generally kept secret from his 1.2 million subjects. Seven in ten of them live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 per day. The King is notoriously secretive about his own wealth; it had been estimated by Forbes that he had a net wealth (assets minus liabilities) of US$200 million.

In 2014, The Sunday Times newspaper in South Africa reported that a number of companies, including MTN had ‘all brokered cosy relationships with the monarchy’.

It added, ‘These companies have either given large chunks of the shares in their Swazi businesses to Mswati directly or to Swaziland’s investment institution, Tibiyo Taka Ngwane over which Mswati has absolute control.’

It reported that the King holds 10 percent of the shares in MTN in Swaziland and is referred to by the company as an ‘esteemed shareholder’. It said MTN had paid R114 million (US$11.4 million) to the King over the five years up to 2014.

The newspaper quoted a report from Freedom House which stated, ‘Foreign companies wishing to enter Swaziland must bribe Mswati with shares or cash in varying amounts depending on the potential for profitability of the proposed venture and the new business’s possible impact on Mswati’s own business interests.’

The Sunday Times reported that MTN had a monopoly in Swaziland and was used by 57 percent of the population. It said MTN was able to keep prices high, citing the cost of 300 megabytes of data in Swaziland as R149, while in South Africa the same amount of data cost R79.

In 2009, Earl Irvine, then US Ambassador to Swaziland, wrote a confidential cable (later published by Wikileaks) in which he said the King operated in his own financial interest. Part of the cable said, ‘Royal politics and King Mswati’s business interests appear to have caused the ouster of Mobile Telephone Network (MTN) CEO Tebogo Mogapi and halted parastatal Swaziland Post and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC) from selling the MTN shares it owns to raise money for a Next Generation Networks (NGN) cell phone project. 

‘Industry and press observers privately indicated that the King, who already owns many MTN shares, had wanted to purchase the MTN shares himself at a cheaper price than the buyer, MTN, was offering SPTC. 

‘Government officials later prevented the sale, and recently did not renew the work permit for CEO Mogapi, a South African citizen, apparently in retaliation for his role in the transaction, as well as the CEO’s reported decision to oppose government efforts to use the MTN network for electronic surveillance on political dissidents.’

The cable went on, ‘The government’s halt of parastatal SPTC’s sale of MTN shares demonstrates the impact the King’s and other influential individuals’ private business interests can have on business transactions in Swaziland. 

‘Government officials would likely prefer a more malleable Swazi CEO at MTN who would cooperate more fully with royal and government wishes.’

In 2011 it was reported that Prime Minister Dlamini owned E392,000 worth of shares in Swazi Empowerment (Pty) Limited (SEL), a company that in turn had a 19 percent shareholding with MTN Swaziland.

Dlamini is the man in charge of the government-controlled parastatal, SPTC and is therefore a key decision maker in the affairs of Swaziland’s national posts and telecommunication. This raised questions about Dlamini’s impartiality when making decisions about SPTC.

A research article written by Ewan Sutherland of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, and published in December 2014 in the Communicatio academic journal, explored telecommunications in Swaziland and concluded there was no competition for mobile phones in the kingdom and ‘the monarch and his cronies are financially tied to Swazi MTN, seeking to neuter the state-owned SPTC. The government has no concern for consumers, service delivery or economic growth, with the King and his prime minister looking after their personal financial interests.’

‘Sutherland wrote, [I]t is difficult to see how any investor could have confidence, unless it had the sovereign on their side and, more likely, in their pocket. 

‘The monarch has a significant and lucrative investment in the principal operator, with the effect of confusing and confounding an already feeble system of governance. The opaque profit-seeking of the King conflicts with the purported aspiration to good governance of telecommunications markets and the interests of his subjects. In a constitutional monarchy, arrangements can be made to keep the investments of a monarch separate from politics, allowing for transparency, accountability to parliament and the avoidance of interference with governance (e.g., Japan and the Netherlands).

‘A feudal monarchy knows no such distinction, there are no conflicts of interest for ministers, regulators and directors – they obey their king. It echoes the problems of Morocco, where its king has private interests in telecommunications, has ministers sit on the supervisory board of the state-owned operator, and he appoints the regulator and is head of the judiciary.

‘Ordinarily the MTN Group would be expected to favour competition and market entry. However, in the Kingdom of Swaziland it has violently opposed competition, going to considerable lengths to block a second mobile operator and even a fixed wireless service. This record removes any presumption in other jurisdictions that its actions are pro-competitive. Equally, it has been happy to work with Mswati III, one of the exotic collection of autocrats with whom it does business, with no fear of reputational risk.’

See also

SWAZI ELECTION – SPONSORED BY MTN
DOES PM HAVE A FORTUNE FROM MTN?
US DECRIES SWAZI KING ON MTN DEAL
PHONES CUT AS SWAZILAND PROTESTS
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2011/09/phones-cut-as-swaziland-protests.html