Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2017, 07:52 GMT

Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 - Swaziland

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 24 May 2012
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 - Swaziland, 24 May 2012, available at: [accessed 13 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Head of state: King Mswati III
Head of government: Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
Population: 1.2 million
Life expectancy: 48.7 years
Under-5 mortality: 73 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 86.9 per cent

A crisis in the rule of law and the unfair dismissal of a judge undermined the independence of the judiciary. Arbitrary and secret detentions, political prosecutions and excessive force were used to crush political protests. A parliamentary committee report highlighted the risks to the right to life from anti-poaching legislation. There was slow progress in repealing laws that discriminated against women. Access to treatment for HIV/AIDS was increasingly threatened by the deteriorating financial situation in the country.


The government's financial situation deteriorated dramatically. Its efforts to secure loans from various sources were not successful, partly due to its failure to implement fiscal reforms, and its unwillingness to accept conditions, including instituting political reforms, within agreed time frames. The government ignored renewed efforts by civil society organizations to open a dialogue on steps towards multi-party democracy. At the UN Universal Periodic Review hearing on Swaziland in October, the government rejected recommendations to allow political parties to participate in elections.

Justice system

Access to fair and impartial tribunals, including for victims of human rights violations, was increasingly restricted by a developing crisis in the rule of law. Restrictions, in the form of a "practice directive", implemented in the higher courts under the authority of the Chief Justice, made access to the courts difficult or impossible for civil litigants in cases in which the King was indirectly affected as a defendant. Another directive placed control over the daily allocation of cases for hearings, including urgent ones, exclusively in the hands of the Chief Justice, whose appointment on a temporary contract was authorized by the King. The restrictions created a bias in the administration of justice, leaving some litigants or defendants in criminal proceedings without access to the courts or to a fair hearing. In August, the Law Society of Swaziland launched a boycott of the courts in protest at these developments and the authorities' failure to institute a proper hearing into its complaints regarding the running of the courts and the conduct of the Chief Justice. In the following weeks it delivered a petition to the Minister of Justice appealing for action. Lawyers' protests near the High Court building were dispersed on several occasions by armed police. In November, the Law Society temporarily suspended its boycott following discussions with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). However, the majority of the Law Society's complaints remained unresolved.

  • In September a senior High Court judge, Thomas Masuku, was summarily dismissed from judicial office by order of the King, following unfair "removal proceedings". These were apparently triggered by allegations lodged against him by the Chief Justice, including that Justice Masuku had criticized the King in one of his rulings. In a closed hearing on the allegations by the JSC, chaired by the Chief Justice, the main complainant, no independent evidence was produced to substantiate the allegations. The JSC did not present their findings to Justice Masuku before they reported them to the King, who subsequently issued his decree on 27 September ordering his dismissal. The Minister of Justice, David Matse, was also dismissed for refusing to sign a document supporting the dismissal of Justice Masuku.

Constitutional or institutional developments

The Commission on Human Rights and Public Administration completed its second year without enabling legislation. It still lacked sufficient staff and accessible premises.

Repression of dissent

In April, the government banned protest marches planned for 12 to 14 April by trade unions and other organizations. Arbitrary and secret detentions, unlawful house arrests and other state of emergency-style measures were used to crush peaceful anti-government protests over several days. Officials from the Swaziland National Union of Students and from banned organizations were among those detained.

The police used excessive force to disperse demonstrators.

  • On 12 April, 66-year-old Ntombi Nkosi, an activist with the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC), was on her way home, having received medical treatment after tear gas was thrown at her, when she was confronted by three armed police officers. They questioned her about wording relating to the NNLC on her T-shirt and headscarf and then allegedly grabbed her, pulled off her T-shirt and headscarf and assaulted her. They throttled her, banged her head against a wall, sexually molested her, bent her arms behind her back, kicked her and then threw her against a police truck. A passing taxi driver helped her to get away. She needed hospital treatment for her injuries.

  • In September, police used excessive force to break up a rally in the eastern town of Siteki, and assaulted S'pasha Dlamini, an executive member of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers. She had been trying to stop the police pulling a South African trade unionist speaker off the stage, when they threw her to the ground, kicked her in the head and dragged her by her arms for about 100m. She needed hospital treatment for her injuries.

Counter-terror and security

  • Maxwell Dlamini, President of the Swaziland National Union of Students, was detained between 10 and 12 April and held incommunicado without access to a lawyer or contact with his family. The day after his release he was rearrested, along with Musa Ngubeni, a political activist and former student activist leader. They were denied legal access while in police custody and during their hearing at the magistrate's court, and were charged with offences under the Explosives Act. They were denied bail on the grounds that their release would undermine public peace and security. On 20 December, the High Court overturned the decision but ordered their release on bail of 50,000 emalangeni (US$6,135) each. They were still in custody at the end of the year.

  • In December, the High Court dismissed an application for the release of Zonke Dlamini and Bhekumusa Dlamini, both charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act in 2010 and then denied bail. The application had been brought on the grounds that the state had failed to bring them to trial within the period required by law.

Unlawful killings

In August a parliamentary committee, appointed to investigate alleged brutality by game rangers against suspected poachers, submitted its conclusions and recommendations to parliament. The committee had investigated violent incidents resulting in the deaths and injuries of suspected poachers and of game rangers. The report listed nine incidents against game rangers and 33 against suspected poachers. The majority of cases were either still under police investigation, or with the prosecutor's office or pending in court. Some suspected poachers injured by game rangers were then prosecuted under the Game Act (as amended). No game rangers were prosecuted for fatal or non-fatal shootings. The committee recommended urgent reform of clauses in the Game Act (as amended), which could be interpreted to "condone brutality towards suspect poachers".

Deaths in custody

The coroner, Nondumiso Simelane, appointed to investigate the May 2010 death in custody of political activist Sipho Jele, presented her report to the Prime Minister in March. The report had not been made public by the end of the year.

  • On 5 December, 26-year-old Phumelela Mhkweli died shortly after police forcibly removed him from a taxi in Siteki, demanding he pay a fine for a traffic offence and insisting that he needed to be "disciplined", according to witnesses. Medical evidence showed injuries to his head and face, and indicated that the aggressive conduct of the police triggered an underlying medical condition leading to his death.

Women's rights

The Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill was debated in parliament but had not been enacted by the end of the year.

In June, the government tabled the Deeds Registry (Amendment) Bill in parliament, in response to a Supreme Court order in May 2010 to amend an unconstitutional provision in the law preventing most women married under civil law from legally registering homes or other immovable property in their own name. The bill, which did not contain sufficient safeguards, had not been enacted by the end of the year.

The Citizenship Bill presented to parliament contained provisions that discriminated against women, denying them the right to pass on their Swazi citizenship to their children or to their non-Swazi spouses.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people

At the October Universal Periodic Review hearing, the government rejected recommendations that it decriminalize same-sex relations and prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Right to health – the HIV epidemic

HIV prevalence remained "exceedingly high" but appeared to be "levelling off", according to UNAIDS. According to the government's report submitted in July for the Universal Periodic Review, 85 per cent of facilities offering antenatal services also offered treatment to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child. The government also announced it had adopted the WHO guidelines for initiation on antiretroviral treatment at an earlier stage in the disease. Some 65,000 people were receiving treatment by November.

However, access to and remaining on treatment was still difficult for some patients due to poverty, lack of transport in rural areas, food insecurity, poor drug procurement procedures and lack of funding because of the country's poor financial management.

Death penalty

Although the 2006 Constitution permits the use of capital punishment, no executions had been carried out since 1983.

  • In April, a decade after his arrest, David Simelane was sentenced to death by the High Court after being convicted of the murders of 34 women. He lodged an appeal.

Two other people remained under sentence of death. In October, at the country's Universal Periodic Review hearing, the government described Swaziland as "abolitionist in practice", but stated that a "national debate" was necessary before the death penalty could be abolished in law.

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