Freedom House Statement
5 May 2011
Government of Swaziland Must Engage with Democratic Movement
Freedom House condemns the brutal tactics employed by the government of Swaziland against the country’s peaceful pro-democracy movement and calls upon authorities to respect the constitutional rights of Swazi citizens to freedom of expression and assembly.
Africa’s only absolute monarchy responded to civil society plans for a mass demonstration on April 12, 2011 by arresting upwards of 150 leaders of the popular movement. Subsequent attempts by citizens to peacefully gather have been forcefully disbanded. A number of civil society and trade union leaders have been detained and have suffered bodily injury at the hands of police and security forces. Democratic activists have been publicly labeled “devils” by King Mswati III in a further effort to suppress popular aspirations for democratic reform.
“The shocking brutality unleashed by the government of Swaziland has further damaged the country’s already tainted image in the international community,” said Robert Herman, Freedom House’s director of programs who recently returned from the country. During the trip, Freedom House expressed solidarity with citizens seeking to exercise their fundamental rights and met with Swazi officials to urge the government to adhere to its obligations under domestic and international law to allow civic groups to organize and express their legitimate concerns.
Swaziland is in the midst of an economic crisis, which has been caused by years of wasteful expenditure by the royal family, fiscal indiscipline, and government corruption on a massive scale. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently stated that the “fiscal crisis in Swaziland continues to deepen,” with the richest 10% of the population owning nearly half of all wealth in the country and more than 80% subsisting on less than two U.S. dollars per day.
“The United States Government, the IMF, and the World Bank should use the requisite means at their disposal to press the government to introduce democratic reforms that will ensure those in power are truly accountable to the long-suffering citizens of Swaziland,” continued Herman.
Swaziland suffers from the highest per capita HIV infection rate in the world, the main factor in life expectancy plunging to 46 years of age. Two hundred thousand orphaned children live in households headed by children or by the elderly on incomes barely sufficient to feed themselves.
Swaziland is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights