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Friday, 28 February 2014

PRESSURE ON ‘OBSERVER’ OVER ‘RAPE’

The Swazi Observer has not said if it will pay the eight alleged rape victims it identified financial compensation.

Meanwhile, an international media ethics watchdog, iMediaEthics, has joined the growing outcry against the newspaper that later apologised to the women but shrugged the incident off as a ‘boo-boo’.

iMediaEthics has written to the Observer demanding an explanation or its huge lapse in media ethics. It also wants the newspaper to respond to a call from Swazi Media Commentary for the editor to resign.

The intervention comes after the Observer published the names of the victims as part of its coverage of the start of a trial of an alleged serial rapist. The newspaper named the women and gave details of how each of them was allegedly attacked.

After an outcry by readers the Observer published an apology to the women but said it had made a ‘boo-boo’ and a ‘snafu’ by naming the women.

It did not say whether it would pay the women compensation for publishing their names. The newspaper has not announced that it will discipline the editor or other staff member for the error. Unlike in Swaziland, in many countries it is a serious offence to name alleged rape victims. For example, in England an editor would be taken before a judge on a contempt of court charge.

The women named by the newspaper are all too poor to be able to afford to take the Observer to court. However, if they had been able to, the compensation that the paper, in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, might be required to pay out could be enough to bankrupt it.

iMediaEthics, under the headline Seriously? 8 Rape Victims IDed, Error called a 'Boo-Boo', said it had written to the Swazi Observer to ask if any of the victims complained or threatened legal action. 

See also

‘SWAZI OBSERVER’ NAMES ‘RAPE VICTIMS’
‘OBSERVER’ SHRUGS OFF ITS RAPE OUTRAGE

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

DEMOCRAT ACQUITTED OF TERRORISM

Youth league President acquitted of terrorist charges in absolute monarchy
Kenworthy News Media 25 February 25, 2014
Bheki Dlamini, President of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), the youth wing of Swaziland’s largest illegal political party PUDEMO, and former education and mobilizing officer of the Foundation for Socio Economic Justice, has been acquitted of charges of terrorism and released from prison today after a protracted trial that saw him spending over three years in prison, writes Kenworthy News Media.

Speaking to a crowd that had gathered at Sidwashini Prison, waiting for his release, Bheki said “me walking out of prison does not mean freedom. This was a small jail and I’m walking out to a bigger jail until we attain freedom. Comrades let’s go work.”

Whilst happy that Bheki had been released, one of his lawyers, Mary Da Silva, called it a “tragedy that Bheki has been robbed of so many years while he remained imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.” Bheki’s co-accused, Zonke Dlamini, was found guilty and will be sentenced on Friday (28 February 2014).

The state had charged Bheki (and Zonke) under the Swaziland Terrorism Act – an act that defines terrorism in very broad terms – for planting petrol bombs in police officers and MP’s houses between April and June 2010. SWAYOCO and the rest of the democratic movement were convinced of his innocence and had claimed all along that he was being framed.

Bheki was refused bail in 2010 because the state claimed that the trial would be swift, but the trial ended up taking well over three years, not least because of several dubious postponements. He went on a hunger strike in July 2013 to protest the many delays to his case.

Many other political prisoners like Bheki remain either imprisoned awaiting trial, where many of them are tortured, or on seemingly indefinite bail in Swaziland.

Bheki Dlamini for one maintains that he was tortured by the police in order to make him confess. “For over an hour, or even more, I would be suffocated by use of a rubber tube, plastic bag and surgical gloves. I was suffocated to the extent that I soiled myself and I was in no position to deny anything I was told to admit,” he said in 2010. Amnesty International also specifically mentioned Bheki Dlamini’s torture by the police in its 2011 annual report.

But Swaziland’s youth are adamant that they will continue to struggle until they have achieved democracy and socio-economic justice.  “Peace, justice and human dignity is what we seek. As we do so, we are prepared to face the consequences of speaking that we deserve to be in charge of our destiny,” SWAYOCO member Mcolisi Ngcamphalala said, commenting on the acquittal of his President.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

SWAZI VOTERS SNUB ‘KING’S DEMOCRACY’

Fewer than 270,000 people voted at the Swaziland national election in 2013: only 44 percent of those entitled to do so.

The percentage turnout was lower than in the previous election in 2008.

The low turnout casts doubts on claims by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, that his subjects support what he calls his kingdom’s ‘unique democracy’.

Political parties are not allowed to take part in elections and most of the political groupings in Swaziland that advocate for democracy have been banned under the King’s Suppression of Terrorism Act.

The Swazi people are only allowed to select 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly, the other 10 are appointed by the King. None of the 30 members of the Swaziland Senate are elected by the people: the King appoints 20 members and the other 10 are appointed by the House of Assembly.

Neither the House of Assembly nor the Senate are independent of King, who can, and does, overrule decisions he does not like.

The people do not elect the government; the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers are handpicked by the King.

Immediately before the national election in September 2013, King Mswati announced that the political system in Swaziland that had until then been called tinkhundla would in future be known as ‘Monarchical Democracy.’ He said this would be a partnership between himself and the people. 

The supporters of King Mswati saw the election as a way for the Swazi people to endorse the King’s version of democracy. At the same time prodemocracy groups urged people to boycott the election.

The full results of the election have not been made public by King Mswati. This is not unusual in Swaziland where ordinary people are starved of information about the Royal Family and how the government is run.

Information about the turnout in September’s election slipped out in a report from the African Development Bank. In its Southern Africa Quarterly Review and Analysis for the fourth quarter of 2013, the Bank devotes a mere seven lines to the election but manages to reveal, ‘Swaziland held its parliamentary elections in September 2013 and the voter turnout was 65 percent.’

If that was the case it means that about 267,000 of the 411,000 people who registered to vote actually did so. It also means that only 44.5 percent of the 600,000 people Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) said were entitled to vote did so.

This compares to the 47.4 percent of people entitled to vote in the previous election in 2008 who actually did so. At that election 189,559 people of the 400,000 entitled to vote did so.

The vote for the 2013 election contradicts King Mswati, who in a speech at the opening of parliament in February said, ‘We wish to thank the nation for going out in their numbers to elect a new government in a highly successful election.’

It also exposes the Weekend Observer newspaper, which is in effect owned by the King and is considered to be a propaganda operation for the monarchy. Immediately after the vote in September it reported the turnout of people on election day was ‘about 400,000’ which would have equated to a turnout by voters of about 97 percent.

It is impossible to tell whether the low turnout in the 2013 election was in support of the boycott call by prodemocracy advocates. It could easily have been because ordinary Swazi people saw no point in voting as it would change nothing in their lives.

The power wielded by King Mswati was criticised by two independent international groups which observed the Swazi election in 2013. Both the African Union and the Commonwealth Observer Mission suggested the kingdom’s constitution should be reviewed to allow political parties to contest elections.

The Commonwealth Observer Mission added that, ‘The presence of the monarch in the structure of everyday political life inevitably associates the institution of the monarchy with politics, a situation that runs counter to the development that the re-establishment of the Parliament and the devolution of executive authority into the hands of elected officials.’

Whatever the reason for the low turnout in the 2013 election, King Mswati and his supporters can no longer claim with justification that the Swazi people wholeheartedly support the political system in Swaziland.

Monday, 24 February 2014

KING’S AIRPORT: ‘NO FLIGHTS FOR 3 YEARS’

It may take up to three years before international airlines use Swaziland’s Sikhuphe Airport that is set to open on 7 March 2014. If they decide to use it at all.

No airlines have signed agreements to fly in and out the airport that is estimated to have cost at least E3 billion (US$300 million) to build and is at least four years behind schedule opening. Critics have dubbed the airport a ‘vanity project’ for King Mswati III.

The King, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, will conduct the opening ceremony himself, but global dignitaries are not expected to attend.

It has been known for some years that airlines are not willing to use Sikhuphe once it opens. And, if there had been interest from airlines outside Swaziland, it would take them at least three years before they could be ready to use the airport.

Sabelo Dlamini, the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) Marketing and Corporate Affairs Director, revealed in June 2012 that it could take three years for an airline to actually start using the airport once it had decided to do so. ‘Normally, airline operators need about three years to prepare for such an exercise.’ He said at the time that Swaziland had approached three potential airlines, which he declined to name, and they were ready to operate at Sikhuphe.

Nothing has happened since Dlamini made his statement in 2012 and no airline outside Swaziland has announced it will use Sikhuphe.

Dlamini also revealed in 2012 that no agreement had been reached with Swaziland’s neighbours South Africa and Mozambique about which routes planes would be allowed to take in and out of Sikhuphe.  Again, no announcement has been made that this issue has been resolved.

The only airline expected to use the airport is Swazi Airlink, which presently flies out of Swaziland’s existing airport at Matsapha. Airlink is a joint venture between the Swazi Government and South African Airlines and flies one route into Johannesburg.

In February 2013 Barnabas Dlamini, Swaziland’s Prime Minister, said, ‘Swazi Airlink will have to use Sikhuphe as it will be our international airport.’

However, in 2011 Airlink had said it did not want to use Sikhuphe, preferring to stay at Matsapha.

There is no news on what will happen to Matsapha Airport after Sikhuphe opens. Matspaha is an underused airport situated minutes away by road from Manzini, Swaziland’s commercial capital. It is also close to Mbabane, the Swazi capital. Sikhuphe, meanwhile, is in the wilderness of eastern Swaziland, about 80km from Mbabane.

Critics of Sikhuphe, who have dubbed the multi-million dollar airport project ‘King Mswati’s vanity project’, have argued for years that there is no potential for the airport. Major airports already exist less than an hour’s flying time away in South Africa with connecting routes to Swaziland and there is no reason to suspect passengers would want to use the airport at Sikhuphe as an alternative.

Completion of the airport has been delayed for years. King Mswati had announced it would be open in time for the FIFA World Cup, played in neighbouring South Africa in 2010.

As long ago as 2003, the International Monetary Fund said Sikhuphe should not be built because it would divert funds away from much needed projects to fight poverty in Swaziland. About seven in ten of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 per day.

Meanwhile, the King lives a lavish lifestyle, including a personal fortune, once estimated by Forbes magazine to be US$200 million, 13 palaces, a private jet and fleets of top-of-the range Mercedes and BMW cars.

US PRESSURE FOR SWAZI REFORMS


The United States has made it perfectly clear to Swaziland: make democratic reforms by May or lose a preferential trade agreement.

An estimated 20,000 Swazi people could lose their jobs in the textile industry if the US acts.

But, we should not expect King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, to care: every time in the past the international community has told him to democratise the kingdom, he has ignored them. There’s no reason to suppose this time will be different.

The United States has given Swaziland until 15 May 2014 to make significant changes to laws in the kingdom that restrict political and workers’ rights.

At stake is Swaziland’s continued ability to export textile goods to the US without having to pay tariffs under the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA).

US Ambassador to Swaziland Makila James told local media that Swaziland had been given eight years to comply with the requirements but nothing significant had happened. Now, things had to change. ‘We are not negotiating. The terms are clear,’ she told the Observer Sunday newspaper.

The Observer reported, ‘Listing the conditions, she said they include full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA); full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.’  

She added that there needed to be greater accountability of the police force in Swaziland. ‘There is a need to give police better guidance so they can do proper law enforcement.’

The Observer estimated that if AGOA benefits were removed from Swaziland 20,000 jobs would be lost in the textile industry as firms moved out of the kingdom to other countries in the sub-Saharan Africa region that continued to have preferential tariff agreements with the US.

The US has been criticising the lack of democracy in Swaziland for several years. In a public statement in April 2013, the US Embassy in Swaziland said it had ‘deep concern’ about the way police engaged in ‘acts of intimidation and fear’ against people seeking their political rights.

The statement came after armed police, acting without a court order, barricaded a restaurant in Manzini to stop people attending a public meeting to discuss the national election in Swaziland.

The US embassy said it had deep concern about the manner in which representatives of political organisations and lawyers for human rights were treated by police.

The police blockade of the restaurant took place on 12 April 2013 and was intended to mark the 40th anniversary of the Royal Decree in 1973 by King Sobhuza II that tore up the constitution and allowed the king to introduce any law he wished and to change existing ones.

The decree has never been rescinded and his son, Mswati III today rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch.

The US embassy said it was, ‘[C]oncerned that a group of people were prevented from entering a restaurant, where they had planned to hold their meeting and were forcibly removed from the premises by police’.

The statement added that the 2005 Swaziland Constitution guaranteed freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

It further said Swazi security forces had a duty to protect the rights of citizens to, ‘communicate ideas and information without interference’.

This was not the first time the US embassy in Swaziland has criticised the Swaziland ruling regime. A year earlier in April 2012 it said, ‘We urge the Swazi government to take the necessary steps to ensure the promotion and protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Swazi citizens as outlined in the Swazi constitution, including freedom of conscience, of expression, of peaceful assembly and association, and of movement.’

The statement went on, ‘The United States government is deeply concerned about increasing infringements on freedom of assembly, as evidenced by the recent actions taken by Swazi security forces to prevent peaceful citizens from gathering for a prayer meeting on Saturday, April 14 in Manzini as well as reports of those same forces preventing people from gathering in groups of more than two people in Manzini and Mbabane on April 11 and 12.’

There is little expectation that Swaziland will comply with the latest US requirements. In the past King Mswati has refused to make democratic reforms in return for assistance. In 2011 he refused to accept a R2.4 billion (US$ 240 million) donation from South Africa to help his bankrupt kingdom and avert a humanitarian crisis because it had demands for democratic reform attached.

Friday, 21 February 2014

‘OBSERVER’ SHRUGS OFF ITS RAPE OUTRAGE

The Swazi Observer, the newspaper that published the names of eight victims of alleged rape and gave details of their attacks, has called the outrage a ‘boo-boo’. 

On Tuesday (18 February 2014) it published across its front page and two inside pages details of a court case involving an alleged serial killer. It published the names of the women, something that contravenes journalism ethics across the world. It called its report ‘a sneak preview’ of the court case.

The newspaper gave their names and details of how each attack took place. It named one woman and revealed she was a virgin.

In all of the attacks violence including a knife was used. In all cases the alleged rapist did not use a condom.

On Friday (21 February 2014), in a tiny piece, the Observer said it had made a ‘snafu’ by publishing the names.

It made an unreserved apology, but tried to pass off the outrage against the women as an understandable error and said it was ‘caught with our guard off’.

But that is not true. This was not some minor mistake like spelling someone’s name wrong. This was evidence that at the Swazi Observer they don’t know what they’re doing.

The report would have been seen by the original reporter who wrote it, a sub editor (copy editor) whose job it is to check for mistakes, possibly a headline writer, a news editor, and the editor. Not one of these ‘journalists’ spotted the mistake.

Not to publish the names of victims of rape is one of the first things a student journalist learns in school. But not one of the Observer journalists who saw the story on its way from the reporter’s computer keyboard to the published page realised anything was wrong.

In its apology the Observer wrote, ‘We believe this expression of regret or apology appropriately matches the scale of the error.’

No it does not. What disgusting indifference the Observer has shown to the women it has terrorised.

The Observer went on. ‘Indeed, the only decent thing we could do after mixing up the rules is to draw our own sword and hang ourselves’.

But that has not happened. No one has resigned. Instead, they have asked their readers for forgiveness. But, why should they give them that? They have the right to expect at least the minimum level of competence from the newspaper.

But, they have not got that. The editor should resign and if he does not, King Mswati III who in effect owns the paper should sack him.

Then the newspaper should contact the women involved and ask how many millions of dollars they must pay them in compensation?

See also

‘SWAZI OBSERVER’ NAMES ‘RAPE VICTIMS’
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2014/02/swazi-observer-names-rape-victims.html

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

‘SWAZI OBSERVER’ NAMES ‘RAPE VICTIMS’

The Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, committed one of the biggest sins against journalism ethics by publishing the names of eight alleged victims of rape without their consent.

The Observer published the names as part of a report on the start of a trial of an alleged serial rapist. In its report the Observer listed the women’s names and details of their attacks in what it called ‘a sneak preview’ of the case. It gave their names and details of how each attack took place. The newspaper named one woman and revealed she was a virgin.

In all of the attacks violence including a knife was used. In all cases the alleged rapist did not use a condom.

By publishing the names of the women, the Observer broke Article 15 of the Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) code of ethics on Survivors of Sexual Assault which states, ‘Journalists shall avoid identifying survivors of sexual assault or any information that may lead to the identification of the survivor.’

Journalists across the world generally agree that it violates the rights of rape victims to publish their names without their consent.

The Observer has been under attack for its lack of journalism standards in the recent past. In a review of press freedom in Swaziland, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) called the Observer, a ‘pure propaganda machine for the royal family’.

The Observer regularly breaks Article 1 of the SNAJ code Article 1which deals with people’s right to information. The article says, ‘The duty of every journalist is to write and report, adhere to and faithfully defend the truth. A journalist should make adequate inquiries, do cross-checking of facts in order to provide the public with unbiased, accurate, balanced and comprehensive information.’

The newspaper is on public record to say that its ‘collective stand as a newspaper is that the integrity of Swaziland as a democratic State and His Majesty King Mswati III as the legitimate leader of the Swazi nation, must never be compromised in any way.’

CHIEF FORCES SUBJECTS TO GREET KING

A chief in Swaziland has told his subjects they have no rights when it comes to attending ‘traditional’ ceremonies involving the King: they have to go.

The instruction by Chief Malambule of Mbilaneni that he will force people to turn out to greet and celebrate King Mswati III confirms suspicions that Swazi people might not be as keen to support the monarch as his supporters insist.

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and there are several ‘traditional’ cultural ceremonies where people are expected to celebrate him.

Chief Malambule was quoted by the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, saying, ‘As long as I am still the ruler here, all of you are expected to participate in all activities such as the cultural events of the kingdom and this is a must.’

The newspaper said the chief ‘who seemed to be seething with anger’ told about 400 of his subjects who attended a mass meeting he had called to address them, ‘that he expected no one to claim he or she had a right to participate or not to participate in important national duties’.

Chief Malambule was angry that so few of his subjects had attended the Incwala ceremony in December 2013.

Incwala is a controversial annual ceremony in which the King goes into seclusion. His supporters call the ceremony a ‘national prayer’, but some Christian leaders have labelled it ‘un-Godly’ and ‘pagan’.

The Observer quoted him saying, ‘No one should claim he or she has a right to decide if he or she attends these ceremonies. I am expecting all the boys to attend ceremonies such as Lusekwane and Incwala. 

‘I found myself having nowhere to hide during the recent Incwala when I had to identify a group of tingatja which was expected to accompany me. I found that less than four of the boys attended and I turned a laughing stock to other chiefs whose boys came in numbers.’

Chief Malambule fined each homestead in his chiefdom with boys who did not attend E20, about one day’s income for seven in ten of Swaziland’s population.

Another of the major ‘traditional’ cultural ceremonies where people are pressured to attend is the Reed Dance or Umhlanga, which takes place each year, usually in August or September.

Here ‘maidens’ dance half naked in front of the King. Thousands attend (although the actual numbers are contested), but there have been reports in past years of girls being coerced into attending by their chiefs and the girls’ families can be victimised if they do not go.
Sponsors, keen to gain the King’s approval, have also offered gifts, such as sneakers, to those who dance before the King. 

Musa Hlophe, a regular columnist for the Times of Swaziland, one of the few newspapers in the kingdom not owned by King Mswati, commented after one Reed Dance that many of the girls who attended went because it was their only chance to get a decent meal.

Chief Malambule’s attack on his subjects demonstrates that chiefs in Swaziland have enormous powers over their subjects, because they are appointed by King Mswati III.

Traditionally they lead a band of area elders. They can decide who lives where and some have been known to banish people from their homes for not obeying rules. Sometimes chiefs demand tithes from their subjects such as a beast or money. 

In November 2013, the newly-appointed Chief Ndlovula of Motshane threatened to evict nearly 1,000 of his subjects from grazing land if they did not pay him a E5,000 (US$500) fine, the equivalent of more than six months income for many.
He said his subjects had illegally built homes on land put aside for grazing.
Chiefs also settle disputes such as over land, accusations of witchcraft, and wandering livestock that harm someone’s crops. Many also settle criminal disputes that probably should best be left to magistrates.

Chiefs are given stipends by the national treasury, but not salaries, and community members pay their allegiance to chiefs by weeding and harvesting their fields, and constructing the traditional mud and thatch huts usually found at chiefs’ homesteads.


In Swaziland chiefs do the king’s bidding at a local level. People know not to mess with the chief because their livelihood depends on his goodwill. In some parts of Swaziland the chiefs are given the power to decide who gets food that has been donated by international agencies and then the chiefs quite literally have power of life and death in such cases with about a third of the population of Swaziland receiving food aid each year. 

Chiefs can and do take revenge on their subjects who disobey them. There is a catalogue of cases in Swaziland. For example, Chief Dambuza Lukhele of Ngobelweni in the Shiselweni region banned his subjects from ploughing their fields because some of them defied his order to build a hut for one of his wives.

Nhlonipho Nkamane Mkhatswa, chief of Lwandle in Manzini, the main commercial city in Swaziland, reportedly stripped a woman of her clothing in the middle of a Swazi street in full view of the public because she was wearing trousers against his orders.

Monday, 17 February 2014

SWAZI POLICE INVESTIGATE OWN KILLINGS

Swaziland’s Police Commissioner has promised an investigation into police shootings after six people were killed in separate incidents in the past three months.

Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula told local media the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions would be the investigators.

The announcement came after an unarmed man was shot dead in cold blood on a public bus by a plain clothed police officer. Police later said the man had stolen copper wire before boarding the bus.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, reported Magagula said the investigation would ascertain whether police had broken any law.

The newspaper reported, ‘Since December [2013], police have shot and killed six suspects in different incidents in the country. The latest case is that of a passenger who was shot dead by a plain clothes police officer in a bus which was from Siteki.

‘On December 12, police shot and killed two suspects in the Built It heist which occurred last year. In January, the police shot and killed one suspect in a dramatic car chase with theft suspects at Ngogola. Also in the same month, two suspects, who were wanted for a string of robberies, were shot and killed by the police.’

Observers of Swaziland have for a number of years identified a shoot-to-kill policy by police and armed forces in the kingdom. In the past the Swazi Police have claimed they have investigated killings, but no officer has ever been prosecuted. No independent inquiry has ever been held into police killings.

In 2010, following a spate of police shootings, the commission chair Rev. David Matse of the Swaziland Human Rights and Public Administration Commission pleaded with the police and army to ‘consider the law before shooting at suspects’.

He said even if a person is escaping from lawful custody, other means of arresting that person can be attempted before the suspect’s life is considered expendable.

‘When it has been necessary to take life, let there be proof that all other remedies were exhausted and that there was no other alternative,’ he said.

See also

SWAZI POLICE SHOOT-TO-KILL ON BUS
SWAZI POLICE SHOOT-TO-KILL
POLICE SHOOT TWO STUDENTS IN HEAD
POLICE SHOOT INNOCENT BYSTANDER
SWAZI GUN COPS ENDANGER CHILDREN

KINGDOM FACES HUMAN RIGHTS PROBE



The United States is to investigate Swaziland’s record on human rights and if it finds the kingdom is not respecting them, it will cancel a vital trade agreement.

The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) reported, ‘The United States remains deeply concerned about the Government of Swaziland’s lack of measurable progress on workers’ rights issues, particularly protection of freedom of association and the right to organize, its use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to intimidate peaceful demonstrations, and the lack of legal recognition for union federations.’ 

Now, it is launching a full-scale inquiry into Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The first part of the inquiry should be completed in May 2014 and if Swaziland fails the human rights test the United States will withdraw the preferential trading rights which give the kingdom benefits under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA).

In a media statement USTR said, ‘In May 2014, the US Government will conduct an interim AGOA eligibility review of Swaziland to assess whether it has made measurable progress on the protection of internationally recognized worker rights.  The results of this review will be reflected in a recommendation to the President regarding Swaziland’s continued AGOA eligibility.’

Under the AGOA, the US grants duty-free access of specific products, including textiles and clothing, from African countries to its market. AGOA contains specific criteria that countries must meet to enjoy the benefits of AGOA, including criteria related to internationally recognized workers’ rights.

In 2013, Swaziland exported US$ 49.749 million worth of apparel to the US, showing a decline of 16.88 percent over exports of $59.855 million made in 2012, according to the Major Shippers Report released by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Swaziland has a history of attacking workers’ rights. It has banned the workers’ federation, the Trades Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), broken up its meeting and harassed and arrested its leaders.

In September 2013, Swazi state police arrested all members of an international panel of experts who were due to meet to debate the role of trade unions in Swaziland. The meeting due to take place in Manzini was to be chaired by Jay Naidoo, founding General Secretary of COSATU and former Minister of Communications for South Africa.

In December 2013, the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) supported workers in Swaziland and called for AGOA benefits to be withdrawn from the kingdom.