U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Swaziland
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Swaziland, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1c28.html [accessed 24 July 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
SWAZILANDSwaziland is governed as a modified traditional monarchy with executive, legislative, and (with limitations) judicial powers ultimately vested in the King (presently Mswati III). The King rules according to unwritten law and custom, in conjunction with a mainly-elected parliament and an accompanying structure of published laws and implementing agencies. Parliamentary elections in 1993, local council elections in 1994, and municipal elections in 1995 and 1997 introduced increased representative government, but political power continues to rest largely with the King and his circle of traditional advisers. The 1968 Constitution was suspended by the present King's father in 1973. Based upon the 1973 decree, the King has the authority to issue decrees that carry the force of law, although he has not exercised this authority in recent years. The 1973 decree also bans political parties, meetings, and processions except in local Tinkhundla centers. There are public demands that the 1973 decree be lifted, and the question is among issues that a Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), appointed by the King in July 1996, is expected to consider and make recommendations on over the course of its 2-year mandate. Four progressive CRC members resigned, variously citing concerns over the Commission's terms of reference, its procedures, its slow progress, and the fact that members were appointed by the King rather than nominated by civic or political groups. The judiciary is independent. Both the Umbutfo Swaziland Defense Force and the Royal Swaziland Police operate under civilian control and are responsible for external and internal security. Some communities, questioning the ability of the National Police to deal with enforcement at the community level, formed community police. There were reports of conflicts between the national and the community police. Members of both the National Police and the community police committed some human rights abuses. Swaziland has a free market economy, with relatively little government intervention. The majority of citizens are engaged in subsistence agriculture, although a relatively diversified industrial sector now accounts for the largest component of the formal economy. The economy relies heavily on the export sector, especially the soft drink concentrate, sugar, and wood pulp industries, which are composed primarily of large firms with predominantly foreign ownership. A governmental organization maintains large investments in all major sectors of the economy, including industry, agriculture, and services. There was little change in the overall human rights situation. Citizens still are not able to change their government. Police tortured and beat some suspects and sometimes used excessive force against demonstrators. The Government generally failed to prosecute or otherwise discipline police officers who committed such abuses. Prison conditions are poor, and the Government continued to use a nonbailable offense provision of the law. Police at times harassed human rights and political activists from prohibited political organizations, as well as labor leaders. The Government continues to limit freedom of speech and the press, and journalists practice some self-censorship, although they spoke out on key issues. However, there was growing freedom of speech in certain areas, including parliamentary debate, and at the CRC's public meetings, where some citizens voiced strong political opinions. The Government restricted freedom of association and assembly and retained prohibitions on political activity, although numerous political formations operated openly and voiced opinions critical of the Government. Authorities on occasion arrested or detained members of political groupings, labor union leaders, and human rights activists for brief periods. There are some limits on freedom of movement. Legal and cultural discrimination and violence against women as well as abuse of children, remained problems. Discrimination against mixed race and white citizens persists. The Government restricts worker rights. The 1996 Industrial Relations Act (IRA), which both unions and organized business criticize for its heavy penalties and violations of International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, remained in force, although the Government agreed to revise it and in November formed a tripartite redrafting committee, including employers and labor, which was assisted by an ILO advisor.