At least 13 people died, but the number has been disputed, with some reports putting the figure at 65.
They died when they were loaded up onto the back of a truck used for conveying building materials. The truck was involved in a road collision on 28 August 2015. They were on their way to the annual Reed Dance or Umhlanga where they were expected to be among thousands of ‘virgins’ to dance half-naked in front of the King.
Femi Falana, a lawyer in Nigeria, has reportedly sent a petition to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Juan Ernesto Mendez; the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Dubravka Simonovic; and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns.
Punch, a Nigerian-based news site, reported, ‘The lawyer said it was particularly insensitive of the Swaziland monarch to have reportedly allowed the dance festival to proceed despite the news of the victims’ death.
‘He said it was also condemnable that rather than address the issues of rights violation, King Mswati III had continued to cover it up by trying to prevent publication of reports on the incidents.’
According to Punch, the petition read in part, ‘I argue that the annual Umhlanga Reed Dance itself is unlawful as it has continued to perpetuate forced marriages, entirely inconsistent with international human rights standards.
‘I also argue that religion, culture and tradition cannot be used to justify human rights violations, including violence against women, which is what the annual Umhlanga Reed Dance constitutes. The continuation of the Umhlanga Reed Dance also gives rise to other human rights abuses, including forced marriages.
‘Under international human rights law, states like Swaziland are to be held accountable if they fail to act with due diligence to prevent violations of rights such as those highlighted above or to investigate and punish acts of violence against women and provide effective remedies and access to justice for victims and their families.
‘By packing the girls onto the back of open trucks, the government of Swaziland should have reasonably foreseen that this would lead to violation of their rights to life and human dignity.
‘In fact, due diligence places a strict standard of conduct upon the government of Swaziland to protect all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including the girls and women.
‘I argue that the government of Swaziland has the supreme duty to prevent acts such as those highlighted above that can cause arbitrary loss of life such as the unnecessary deaths of these girls.’
King Mswati came in for heavy criticism after the crash because journalists were prevented from reporting the event. King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and media are heavily restricted in his kingdom.
There was a dispute over the number of deaths. The officially sanctioned figure was 13, but prodemocracy groups in Swaziland said it was as high as 65.
Punch, the Nigerian website reporting on Falana’s petition to the UN, caused controversy in August 2015 when it incorrectly reported that girls and young women in Swaziland were forced to undergo public virginity tests before King Mswati III decided whether to take them as his wife.
DEAD GIRLS ARE VICTIMS, NOT HEROES
DEAD GIRLS TRANSPORTED LIKE CATTLE
‘COVER-UP ON SWAZI REED DANCE DEATHS
‘CANCEL REED DANCE AFTER DEATHS’