Covering events from January-December 2001

Kingdom of Swaziland
Head of state: King Mswati III
Head of government: Barnabus Sibusiso Dlamini
Capital: Mbabane
Population: 0.9 million
Official languages: English, Siswati
Death penalty: retentionist

The rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression remained restricted. Government actions threatened the independence of the judiciary and undermined court rulings. There were reports of torture and ill-treatment. Government opponents were subjected to arbitrary detention and politically motivated trial proceedings. The King commuted four death sentences; no executions were carried out. Violations of women's rights remained systematic.


In August the King made public the report of the Constitutional Review Commission appointed in 1996. The report recommended, among other things, strengthening the executive powers of the King, maintaining the ban on political parties, and ensuring that any "rights and freedoms" which may be part of any agreement with other states or international bodies did not conflict with Swazi "customs and traditions". The formation of a committee to draft a new constitution was announced in December.

Threats to the rule of law

On 22 June the King issued a law, Decree No. 2, which further restricted the exercise of fundamental rights. It reversed the effect of rulings by the High Court and Court of Appeal against the banning of news publications and against police actions resulting in the removal at gunpoint from their homes of members of two rural communities protesting against the imposition of a Chief. The Decree prohibited any further legal challenges in court to these matters. The Decree also confirmed that the King had sole discretion in the appointment of judges.

On 24 July, after widespread criticism of the law nationally and internationally, the Decree was repealed and replaced by Decree No.3. This Decree validated any actions taken by ministers or officials prior to 24 July and removed them from challenge in court. The new law also reinstated a 1993 law – Non-Bailable Offences Order No.14 – under which the courts are obliged to deny bail to any person charged with any of a number of scheduled offences. In June the Court of Appeal had ruled that the 1993 law was a "draconian" law and "inconsistent with the presumption of innocence". In June, some 1,000 people were reported to be in custody after being denied bail. Some of them had been awaiting trial for more than two years.

Violations of freedoms of assembly, association and expression

Fundamental rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression continued to be restricted. Police prevented a number of gatherings deemed to be political. Several journalists were harassed by police in the course of their work. A number of publications were banned and, towards the end of 2001, the government threatened to reintroduce a Media Council Bill to tighten restrictions on journalists and publications.

  • On 19 October police broke up a news conference organized by members and affiliates of the Swaziland Democratic Alliance (SDA) to protest against the detention of an opposition leader, Mario Masuku, as well as other grievances. Armed police prevented the SDA organizers from entering the planned venue in Manzini, claiming that the event was illegal. When the organizers attempted to conduct the news conference at a second venue, the police, backed by heavily armed paramilitary police, forced their way in and pushed the organizers and journalists out of the building. The Times journalist Thulasizwe Mkhabela was assaulted, allegedly by a senior police officer. He lodged a complaint of assault later that day; he was compelled to lay his charge at the same police station where the officer involved worked.
  • In August the High Court ruled that the authorities had unlawfully banned the Guardian newspaper in May. However, the paper was unable to resume publication because a government appeal against the ruling had not been heard by the end of the year.
Political trials

On 4 October, Mario Masuku, President of the People's United Democratic Movement, was rearrested. He had been arrested on charges of sedition in November 2000 and released under restrictive bail conditions. In early October he refused to continue to observe his bail conditions, which required him to report daily to the police regional headquarters in Mbabane, to obtain the permission of the Commissioner of Police to address any public gathering and to obtain the permission of the High Court to travel abroad. He was remanded in custody pending trial on the original sedition charges. He required treatment in hospital as a consequence of poor prison conditions which exacerbated his existing health problems of diabetes and hypertension. In December a trial date was set for early 2002.

On 24 September, six trade union leaders were acquitted by the Mbabane magistrates' court of charges of contempt of court. The defendants had been charged in connection with their participation in a strike in November 2000. When giving his ruling the magistrate criticized the police witnesses for the "contradictory" evidence they had given during the trial. An appeal against the acquittals was pending at the end of the year.

Torture and deaths in police custody

There were a number of reports of torture or ill-treatment by police. The Prime Minister ordered an inquiry into a number of deaths in police custody.
  • Edison Makhanya and Sibusiso Jele died within hours of their arrest by police on 20 March. The police had arrived at the home of the Jele family where the two youths were sleeping. They ordered them to dress and took them away, handcuffed together, apparently in connection with a criminal investigation. Family members were told later the same day by police officials that the detainees had committed suicide by swallowing poison. Their deaths created a public outcry and, unusually, the government ordered the Chief Magistrate to hold a coroner's inquest. The inquest was held in open court. However, the inquiry was hampered by the conflicting evidence of police witnesses, the obstruction by police of the independent forensic pathologist representing the families at the post-mortem examinations, and the police failure to provide the inquest magistrate with the results of toxicology tests. Consequently the inquest court had been unable to deliver conclusive findings by the end of the year.
Death penalty

By the end of the year there were 11 prisoners under sentence of death at Matsapha Maximum Security Prison; all had been convicted of murder. Officials publicly confirmed the government's intention to employ an executioner.

In November the Appeal Court overturned the death sentence imposed on a South African national, Bongani Mkhwanazi, on the basis that there were extenuating circumstances. His sentence was commuted to 25 years' imprisonment.

Violence against women

Women and girls remained vulnerable to violence, including sexual violence and the risk of HIV infection, as a result of discriminatory national law and customary practices. Victims of rape continued to face prejudice from police and criminal justice officials.

AI country reports/visits

  • Swaziland: New decree endangers fundamental rights and the rule of law (AI Index: AFR 55/002/2001)

AI delegates visited Swaziland in May.

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