AI report slams human rights track record

In a report released on Thursday Amnesty International (AI) urged Swazi authorities to resolve the ongoing constitutional crisis that has left the kingdom without a Court of Appeal since 2002.

The international rights group said that despite becoming a signatory to four key human rights treaties between April and June 2004, a wide gap remained between promises and practices.

"Swaziland must back up its recent commitments to international human rights standards by re-establishing the rule of law and confronting the systematic violation of civil, political, economic and social rights. These steps are also essential to addressing the country's profound humanitarian crisis," AI said.

In its report, 'Swaziland: Human rights at risk in a climate of political and legal uncertainty', AI alleged that "the government's contempt for court rulings and judicial independence had denied people effective legal redress and has allowed impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations".

The rights group noted that since late June 2004, when the last treaty was signed, there had been no resolution of the rule-of-law crisis, triggered in November 2002 by then Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini's public refusal to abide by two rulings of the country's highest court, the Court of Appeal.

AI said King Mswati, as head of state, could have countermanded this action by Dlamini if he had deemed it appropriate. "As he did not, the conclusion must be drawn that the king ordered or agreed with the prime minister's action," AI claimed.

Although the current prime minister, Themba Dlamini, has publicly asserted the importance of upholding the rule of law, the government has refused to acknowledge the November 2002 Court of Appeal rulings, AI said.

All the judges of the Court of Appeal resigned in protest at the time and Swaziland currently has no Court of Appeal.

There was "an increasing number of civil and criminal cases, including one involving the imposition of a death sentence at appeal stage, which cannot be concluded," the report noted.

The unresolved situation was also undermining efforts to devise a new constitution for the country.

AI said that while the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the draft constitution would assist the country to begin moving towards compliance with its obligations as a signatory to international human rights treaties, many provisions of the Bill of Rights fell short of the standards required under the treaties.

Among the allegations of abuses of human rights documented in the AI report was the government's failure to investigate and prosecute those responsible for torture, deaths in custody and the excessive force used by police.

The undermining of the role of courts in protecting the rights of women and girls against forced marriages, which had also been perpetrated by members of the royal family, was another concern.

Amnesty said the unprecedented legal challenge brought in the High Court by the mother of a young woman who was taken away from her school by agents of the king and held at the Ludzidzini royal palace had led to a blatant act of intimidation against the High Court judges hearing the case. The report also cited examples of intimidation against perceived government critics.

"The pattern of intimidation and obstruction showed just how difficult it was to protect the internationally recognised human rights of women and girls, particularly where their rights were violated by unaccountable authorities, and in a context of longstanding discrimination and subordination of women," AI remarked.

IRIN was unable to get comment from Swazi authorities.