Despite a campaign at the European Parliament to force Swaziland to improve its human rights record, the European Union (EU) has continued to spend tens of millions of euros of taxpayers’ money in the kingdom ruled by the autocratic King Mswati III.
Figures just released show the EU disbursed E365 million last year (26 million euro; US$22 million.
Bertram Stewart, Swazi Ministry of Economic Planning and Development Principal Secretary, said, ‘I wish to express our sincere gratitude to the EU for the financial and moral support they provided to the country,’
He was speaking at the annual Swazi Government and EU project planning meeting to review the progress of EU-funded projects.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, reported, ‘EU Ambassador Nicola Bellomo said they were really proud of the achievements and were looking at increasing and improving their level of cooperation in partnership with all the relevant stakeholders.’
There has been growing concerns in Europe about Swaziland’s record on human rights, where any political dissent can be outlawed by the Suppression of Terrorism Act. In recent years, journalists have been jailed for criticising the kingdom’s judges.
In October 2016, more than four in ten Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) did not support Swaziland’s inclusion in a trade partnership deal.
Ambassador Bellomo said at the time, many MEPs wanted Swaziland excluded because of human rights violations.
In a vote, 417 MEPs endorsed Swaziland’s inclusion in the Southern African Development Community (SADC)-EU Economic Partnership Agreement. However, 216 MEPs voted against and a further 118 abstained from voting.
Bellomo told the Sunday Observer on 9 October 2016 that those who wanted the kingdom to be excluded cited human rights violations. He gave the jailing of the Nation magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko on sedition charges as examples.
The Observer reported the EU ambassador said this should be ‘a wake-up call’ to Swaziland.
The new trade agreement opened SADC goods to the European markets duty free.
In May 2015, the European Parliament voted for the release of all political prisoners in Swaziland and called for the kingdom to be monitored for its human rights record.
A statement issued by the European Parliament said, ‘Parliament considers the imprisonment of political activists and the banning of trade unions to be in clear contravention of commitments made by Swaziland under the Cotonou Agreement to respect democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and also under the sustainable development chapter of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Economic Partnership Agreement, for which Parliament’s support will depend on respect for the commitments made.’
The resolution was passed by 579 votes to six, with 58 abstentions.
In January 2015, the United States withdrew Swaziland’s trading benefits under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) after the kingdom refused to accept democratic change.
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