A United Nations group has asked Swaziland to account for the number of arrests made under its anti-terror and sedition laws.
Coincidentally, it comes at a time that a Bill to amend the controversial Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) was pulled from the Swazi Senate.
Swaziland ratified the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2004 and its initial report on progress was due by 2005, but 13 years later it has failed to report. After such a long delay, the Human Rights Committee (HRC) has scheduled a review of the kingdom in the absence of report. This review will take place in July 2017.
The United Nations group is asking a series of questions across a wide range of issues relating to human rights in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch.
Both the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act (SSAA) and the STA have been used to silence criticism of the King’s regime. Groups that advocate for democracy have been banned under the STA.
Now, the HRC is asking the Swazi Government to account for its anti-terrorism laws. It asks Swaziland to report on the progress made to narrow the definition of terms such as “terrorist act”. It also asks how the proposed amendment to the STA will provide access to effective legal remedies.
It also asks Swaziland to provide detailed information on the number of investigations, detentions, prosecutions, acquittals and convictions under both the STA and SSAA.
On Wednesday (31 May 2017) the Suppression of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill was pulled out of Senate.
The Swazi Observer newspaper reported that this was done by the Minister of Labour and Social Security Winnie Magagula. She said government wanted a bit more time to amend some sections in the legislation, but no details were given.
It came ahead of a meeting of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which has been closely monitoring Swaziland’s lack of progress in human rights.
In 2014 the United States withdrew trading privileges from Swaziland under the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) because the kingdom had not fulfilled all the requirements of the programme, including respect for human rights.
The US wanted Swaziland to implement the full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the STA; full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.
Both the STA and the SSAA have been criticised by global human rights groups as oppressive.
Amnesty International in April 2015 renewed its criticism of Swaziland for the ‘continued persecution of peaceful political opponents and critics’ by the King and his authorities.
The human rights organisation called for both Acts to be scrapped or drastically rewritten.
It said the Swazi authorities were using the Acts, ‘to intimidate activists, further entrench political exclusion and to restrict the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.’
In September 2016, the Swazi High Court ruled sections of the STA and the SSAA were unconstitutional because they contravened provisions in the Constitution on freedom of expression and freedom of association.
The Swaziland Attorney-general has appealed the decision.
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