On 4 October 2011, the Working Group on the Universal Periodical Review examined the human rights situation in Swaziland.
The small delegation was headed by Mr Mgwagwa Gamedze, the Acting Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of Swaziland. Mr Gamedze was the only member of the delegation to speak during the review. He particularly noted that the Government has established a free primary education programme for the first two grades and will progressively add new grades to the programme until 2015 when it is hoped that free primary education will be universal at all levels. Mr Gamedze also discussed Swaziland’s progress in relation to access to health, which includes highly subsidised medical services and a Preventing Mother to Child Transmission program (PMTCT) to help halt the spread of HIV/AIDS.
In relation to women’s rights, Swaziland adopted a national gender policy in 2010 and an increasing number of women have been employed in the public sector.
In his opening statement, Mr Gamedze also addressed some pre-submitted questions from States. In particular Mr Gamdze announced that Swaziland is considering ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel Inhuman and Degrading Punishment ( CAT).
He also explained that the Government has recently enacted a bill to ensure that Swaziland’s national human rights institution (the Commission on Human Rights and Public Administration) complies with the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions (the Paris Principles).
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, States recognised Swaziland’s achievements in children’s rights and health, but noted with concern challenges in the areas of women’s rights, and political rights such as freedom of expression. States also commented on the continued existence of the death penalty in Swaziland’s legislation. Mr Gamedze stated that although the death penalty exists, Swaziland is ‘abolitionist’ in practice and the death penalty has not been carried out since 1983.
States made the following comments and recommendations:
Ratify international human rights treaties including the Convention on Enforced Disappearances ( CED), the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.
Improve cooperation with UN treaty bodies, and extend standing invitations to the Council’s special procedures.
Take immediate measures to ensure the independence of the judiciary.
Ease legislative requirements regarding the registration of independent media.
Allow for the registration and operation of political parties and ensure free, transparent, and regular elections.
Establish independent commissions of enquiry for all cases of death at the hands of national security forces and police.
Formally abolish the death penalty.
Decriminalise consensual same-sex relations.
Repeal laws that discriminate against women, including allowing women’s ownership of property
Identify needs for technical and financial assistance.
In response Mr Gamedze specifically addressed the issues of same-sex relationships and the death penalty. He noted that while consensual same-sex relations are illegal in Swaziland, the Government does not pursue prosecutions. He also claimed that so far the LGBTI movement in Swaziland had not challenged these policies and clarified that the Government would only look into these issues if and when this happened.
In relation to the death penalty, Mr Gamedze reiterated that Swaziland is abolitionist in practice with no death penalty having been carried out since 1983, and specified that a public debate would first be required before the Government could formally abolish it.
Swaziland accepted 75 of the total 139 recommendations made, rejected 7, and held 57 for consideration to be responded to by the 19th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2012.
In his final remarks, Mr Gamedze noted Swaziland’s appreciation of the UPR exercise and reiterated its commitment to promoting and protecting human rights.