Senators in Swaziland have abandoned an investigation into criminal offences by police officers because it could put the kingdom in a bad light internationally.
It comes at a time when a United Nations group is demanding answers from Swaziland about police, torture and human rights.
A motion by senators had wanted the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini to investigate what local media called, ‘the alarming rate of criminal offences allegedly committed by members of the Royal Swaziland Police service’.
The Times of Swaziland reported (30 June 2017) that the PM was to be asked to see if the presently available disciplinary sanctions against police officers were effective enough to ensure the force had the public’s confidence.
The Times reported, ‘almost all the senators spoke in one voice that it was not the right time to call for such an investigation’. Swaziland had recently been given a seat in the governing body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and senators felt it would look bad to be investigating police at such a time.
Meanwhile, a United Nations group is investigating the use of torture by police in Swaziland.
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.
In a wide-ranging document the HRC poses a number of questions to the Swazi Government which was not elected by the people but hand-picked by King Mswati III who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
On the use of police torture HRC asks the government, ‘Please state whether torture is specifically criminalized in the State party, with appropriate penalties, and provide information on whether an independent body exists to investigate complaints and prevent abuse and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.’
The inquiry also asks for information on the permissible grounds for deprivation of liberty and there is a way to address instances of unlawful arrest or detention.
HRC says, ‘Please also provide information on the rights of persons in police custody, including their right to have access to a lawyer, the stage at which a suspect is allowed access to a lawyer and the maximum period of detention before an individual is brought before a judge.’
It asks for data on the number of law enforcement officials that have been: (a) investigated; (b) prosecuted; (c) convicted or acquitted; and (d) punished, and the nature of the sanctions imposed.
In June 2016, a United Nations review panel looking into human rights in Swaziland was told in a joint report by four organisations, ‘In Mbabane [the Swazi capital], police tortured a 15-year-old boy after his mother had reported him for stealing E85.00 (US$6). The boy alleges that he was beaten with a slasher (metal blade tool for cutting grass) and knobkerrie (club) for five hours. While enduring the pain, he alleges that he was made to count the strokes aloud for the police to hear. Instead of being charged, the boy was physically assaulted and made to sit in a chair for thirty minutes before he was sent back home.’
The report was submitted to the United Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland by the Swaziland Multi-Media Community Network, Swaziland Concerned Church Leaders, Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations and Constituent Assembly – Swaziland.
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