10 June 2011Bishops in southern Africa urge end to violence in Swaziland
Noting their alarm at increasing brutality in Swaziland, the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference has urged regional blocs to act to secure human rights in Africa's only absolute monarchy.
Swaziland, a country of 1 million, is "in turmoil ... tearing itself apart from the inside by the actions of an uncaring head of state and a regime that is getting more brutal by the day," the conference said in a June 9 statement.
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban and the conference president, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, were part of a bishops' delegation that visited Swaziland before the conference issued its statement.
Noting that protest marches in Swaziland's economic hub, Manzini, in April resulted in the "most stringent security clampdown" in the country's history, the bishops said urgent action is needed "to redeem Swaziland from this deadly crisis."
They proposed that the Southern African Development Community and the African Union examine "critically and honestly" whether the constitution of Swaziland meets with the requirements of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and whether Swaziland's election process conforms to the southern African bloc's protocol on elections.
While Swaziland's constitution "supposedly guarantees the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," it simply enshrines the king's 1973 decree, in which the king suspended the constitution.
The powers enshrined in that decree "need to be curtailed since their abuse by those in authority is the primary cause of the current crisis, in which dissenting views meet with brutality of the highest order," the bishops said.
"Human rights activists have their homes arbitrarily raided" and "are arrested, detained and beaten up by security forces, presumably under orders of the king, who is the commander-in-chief," they said.
Swaziland has a human rights commission, but it has never attended to any complaints about gross violations of human rights by the state, the bishops said.
King Mswati III needs to "enter into meaningful dialogue with his people in order to facilitate movement toward true democracy."
Swaziland has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world -- just over 26 percent of the adult population; the world's lowest life expectancy at 32 years; and an unemployment rate of 40 percent. Seventy percent of its people living below the poverty line, which is set at under $6 a day, the bishops said.
The country's system of governance "is a breeding place for corruption and greed," the bishops said. They said money to support people was "diverted to support the lavish lifestyle of the monarchy and its cohorts, namely the king, his 13 wives, 30 children, other members of the royal family and hangers-on."
The bishops called "on all Catholics and people of good will in southern Africa to join us in praying for meaningful change in Swaziland as the most effective way of expressing solidarity with the people of Swaziland."