Civil society decries lack of action on rule-of-law crisis

Former government leaders joined human rights attorneys in criticising officials perpetuating Swaziland's rule-of-law crisis at a conference sponsored by the Law Society of Swaziland this week.

The crisis began two years ago when the royal government refused to obey High Court rulings limiting king Mswati's power to rule by decree.

"Administration of justice is the cornerstone in nation building. But [in Swaziland] the rule of law became a casualty," former deputy prime minister Arthur Khoza said in the keynote address to the Administration of Justice Conference at Ezulwini, 10 km east of the capital, Mbabane.

Khoza criticised a declaration by former Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini, which overturned a Court of Appeal ruling upholding a High Court decision that said Mswati had no constitutional power to issue laws by decree.

"The [premier's] statement was born out of arrogance," said Khoza.

Although serving as deputy prime minister in the last cabinet, Khoza said he was ignorant of government's plan to sideline rulings by the country's highest court. The entire Appeal Court bench subsequently resigned in protest, and Swaziland has functioned without the court since November 2002.

Dlamini, who was appointed by Mswati, is now one of the king's palace advisors. In keeping with the custom of appointing only members of the ruling Dlamini family as premier, he was replaced last year by Themba Dlamini.

The current premier has vowed to restore rule of law to Swaziland, but some conference attendees remarked that this was because investors shied away from a country with a compromised court system and the economy was suffering as a result. As some speakers noted, no concrete action has been taken to rectify the situation since he assumed office last year.

A source at Lawyers for Human Rights (Swaziland) told IRIN: "Government seems to be stalling until the new palace constitution is put in place, which will give the king the power to rule by decree that the courts said he does not now legally have. That is how rule of law will be restored, they think: by putting in writing the king's absolute power. This does nothing to address the issue of arbitrary power and the lack of judicial independence under a monarchial system."