Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations Media Statement
December 15, 2008, Manzini
Thursday 11 December, Human Rights Activist Mr James Maina Kabutu left Swaziland after a campaign of intimidation and pressure from the Royal Swazi Police left him in fear for his safety and even his life.
Mr Maina, a Kenyan national who had to flee from the violence in Nairobi that erupted after the December Elections was in Swaziland as a refugee. The nature of his work and the continuing unrest in Kenya meant that it was not safe for him to return there.
His time in Swaziland was spent helping the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) with its human rights and civic education work.
In light of the increased pressure on the Coalition’s Co-ordinator, Mr Musa Hlophe by the government, the Police and even parts of Swazi media that sought to falsely portray Mr Hlophe as a supporter of terrorism, it was obvious that some sort of protection for human rights defenders in the country was required.
Mr Maina contacted the Human Rights Observatory, which then put out a protection notice alerting the world and the government of Swaziland to the increased pressure on Human Rights Defenders in general and specifically naming Mr Hlophe and Mr Maina.
As a result of this notice Mr Maina was interviewed by the Police in Swaziland’s second town of Manzini. They told him that they were not looking for him directly, only his boss Musa Hlophe. However, they also added that any further attempts to bring the international reputation of Swaziland into disrepute would result in him being forced to live in a refugee camp or deported home.
Seven days afterwards, Mr Maina was again interviewed by the police who said the Attorney General had now been contacted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and that Maina had been warned about the consequences of bringing Swaziland into disrepute. Therefore he had seven days in which to voluntarily leave the country or he would be deported back to Kenya. Given that this is tantamount to a death sentence for Mr Maina, he felt he could not take the risk and opted to flee the country. The threat by the Police is in direct contravention of many of Mr Maina’s rights, in particular the rights under the African Union Convention on Refugees and UN General Assembly resolution 53/144 that protects Human Rights Defenders.
Mr Musa Hlophe the Coalition’s Co-ordinator said, ‘James is a fine African. He brought many insights and examples of human rights and civil society activities from our brothers and sisters in Kenya. He will be missed by us all at the Coalition, but our first duty is to the safety of our personnel. We thank Amnesty International and Frontline in helping us to keep our people safe.’
Mr Hlophe continued ‘James came to Swaziland as a refugee and as a human rights defender, he therefore has special and clear protections under International Treaties that this government has signed and ratified. These treaties make very clear that Human Rights work is not the same as political activity and that governments must understand and respect the difference. We are saddened by his departure but rest assured that he will continue to advocate for the promotion of Human Rights in Swaziland from his new home in the US.’ Hlophe concluded his statement saying ‘It is time that our Police Force learned what our, and their, Human Rights are. The Coalition would be happy to work with them on this.’
Musa I N Hlophe
Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations
+268 604 8988
+268 505 5911
+268 654 0647