The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (Southern Defenders) welcomes the decision of the Southern Africa Development Community’s (SADC) to deploy a fact-finding Mission to eSwatini following the escalating political crisis that has seen egregious human rights violations due to the eSwatini government’s brutal suppression of dissent, and state security forces killings of at least 40 eSwatini citizens. The pro-democracy protests followed the death of a university student, allegedly at the hands of the police amidst a government ban of petitions to the government calling for improved service delivery, accountable governance, and democratic change. The disproportionate and violent response by government security forces has suspended democratic engagement and laid the foundation for an unconstitutional militarization of civilian affairs, which is a cause of deep concern.
Southern Defenders believe that the following challenges are at the heart of the instability in eSwatini
- The Monarchy and concomitant absence of constitutional democracy: Since the April 12, 1973 decree by King Sobhuza abolishing multi-party democracy in favor of an absolute monarchy, eSwatini has been a veritable political powder keg. The new constitution in 2005 failed to restore real multi-party democracy and maintained the ban on political parties.
- Restricted civic space: The Monarchy limits civic space depriving eSwatini citizens of credible outlets to voice discontent and contribute to governance. It brutally suppresses protests, and police brutality is commonplace. It also muzzles independent media and undermines the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and freedom to use internet.
- Socio-economic situation: The economic inequalities and concertation of wealth and economic power in the hands of the few ruling elites and politically connected persons are part of the root causes of the crisis in Eswatini. The King and his associates have vast interests in the telecommunication sector and sugar industry. More than 60% of the population live in conditions of abject poverty below the poverty line, and high levels of unemployment amid a Covid-19 pandemic that has worsened the situation.
On June 28, 2021, Southern Defenders convened a multi-stakeholder consultation meeting with leading civil society groups and human rights defenders from Eswatini and other regional human rights organizations. The consultation meetings resolved, among other things, to ask for SADC to urgently send a fact-finding Mission to eSwatini, and for the SADC fact-finding Mission to focus on the following priorities:
- Advising the eSwatini authorities on immediate steps to de-escalate the situation, by addressing eSwatini citizen’s grievances through meaningful engagement. Insisting that those who were arrested should be subjected to a due process without further delay and that the safety and security of the public be guaranteed.
- Encouraging the eSwatini authorities to allow pro-democracy groups and trade unions including the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) to organize and communicate freely with all Swazis.
- Encouraging urgent inclusive constitutional reform to legalise political parties and allow multi- party democracy as well as robust and inclusive political engagement.
- Pursuing an inclusive and holistic response to the unfolding political and humanitarian crisis, arguably caused by an elite leadership crisis that has manifested in severe governance deficit and exposed the excesses of the absolute Monarchy as an outdated and authoritarian political system.
- Insisting that the army should immediately return to the barracks, and an independent commission of inquiry be established to investigate promptly and transparently the role of the military and other security forces in the killings of civilians to ensure accountability and justice for the victims and survivors.
- Encouraging the eSwatini government to uphold its international and domestic legal obligations to respect and enforce the citizens’ fundamental human rights to respect the constitution and guarantee freedom of expression, association, and assembly as well as freedom to use internet. Eswatini is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) prohibits the cruel treatment that pro- democracy activists are currently subjected to.
- Urging the authorities in eSwatini to repeal oppressive laws, including the 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act and 1938 Sedition and Subversive Activities Act and allowing political exiles to safely return and be included in the political dialogue.
- Supporting efforts for police reforms to increase the capacity of the eSwatini police in rights- based public order policing
- Ensuring that SADC and South Africa support to eSwatini, including trade and membership to the Customs Union should be sustained upon delivery of meaningful reforms and should be linked to a human rights due diligence process.
The extraordinary political crisis that has engulfed eSwatini demands the ongoing attention and intervention by SADC and South Africa. It is therefore crucial for the regional body to remain seized with the situation in eSwatini and to assist the people of Eswatini to pursue a peaceful path to substantial democratic reform.
Together we defend! Sincerely,
Arnold Tsunga Chairperson
Southern Africa Human Rights Defender Network firstname.lastname@example.org
CC: SADC Chairperson
: SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation
: SADC Fact-Finding Mission to eSwatini
: Incoming SADC Chairperson