Over a quarter of the population faced severe food shortages. Three quarters of those in clinical need of antiretroviral therapy were not receiving it. A new Constitution was adopted amid continuing political tensions. Victims of forced evictions were still unable to access their rights. Reported rapes and other forms of sexual abuse of women and girls increased, but the government proposed legislative reforms to improve access to justice. Reports of torture, ill-treatment and misuse of lethal force by members of the police persisted, and there was a lack of redress for the victims. Limitations on freedoms of assembly and association included the suppression of demonstrations by force. Three people were under sentence of death. A draft law proposed creating 14 new death penalty offences.

Legal and constitutional developments

In June a new Constitution was adopted by parliament. Civil society organizations expressed concern at obstacles to public involvement in the drafting and adoption of the Constitution and at provisions entrenching the King's extensive powers and limiting the exercise of certain rights.

On 26 July the King assented to the new Constitution, which was then published in the Government Gazette as law. However, the King failed to issue a decree repealing the Proclamation of 12 April 1973, which vested all legislative, executive and judicial powers in the King and banned political parties. Government officials claimed that the Constitution was not yet in force. In a test case heard in the High Court in December, lawyers representing members of the Industrial Court argued that the Constitution was the applicable and supreme law in this case. The High Court had not given a ruling by the end of 2005.

The operations of the Judicial Services Commission were revived, and on its advice the King appointed three new judges on an "acting" basis and for one year only.

The government's obligations under a key 2002 Court of Appeal ruling remained partly unfulfilled. The forcible eviction of Chief Mtfuso Dlamini and his family from their home in KaMkhweli in 2000, along with that of other families from Macetjeni, had triggered a four-year rule of law crisis. In August the government refused to accept a petition from the Dlamini clan of KaMkhweli for the unconditional return of Chief Mtfuso, in exile in South Africa, as required under the Court ruling.

Violence against women and girls

In November a draft Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill was issued in response to increasing concerns about sexual violence against women and young children. The Bill sought to redefine the crime of rape, criminalize marital rape, and introduce protection for "vulnerable witnesses" as well as new civil law remedies for those at risk of domestic violence. However, it also proposed 14 new capital offences.

In October police officials confirmed an increase since 2002 in reported rapes of women and children below 12 years of age. Over half the 544 rape cases reported to police by July involved minors under 18 years and young children. The Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA), a non-governmental organization, dealt with an average of 21 cases of rape and sexual abuse a month in the first 10 months of the year. Perpetrators included family members and teachers. The Commissioner of Police established the Domestic Violence and Child Sexual Abuse unit in an attempt to improve police response to these crimes.

The new Constitution guaranteed women equality under the law, except in the "cultural" sphere. However, in a separate clause, which failed to fully protect women's rights, a woman could "not be compelled to undergo or uphold any custom to which she is in conscience opposed".

Access to health care

An HIV prevalence rate of 42.6 per cent was reported among women attending antenatal clinics. The UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare reported that 56 per cent of pregnant women aged 25 to 29 were HIV-positive. In March, 8,373 people were receiving antiretroviral therapy, 23 per cent of those estimated to need it, according to the World Health Organization and UNAIDS. The drug treatment was free, but shortages were reported at certain hospitals. Access to voluntary counselling and testing improved.

There were concerns that the proposal in the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill, to provide a mandatory death penalty for "intentionally" transmitting HIV through "unprotected sex with another person", would increase the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and discourage people from learning their status.

Children's rights

School students were subjected to whippings and forced labour as a form of collective punishment.

  • In a two-week period, 59 per cent of 2,750 Swazi children surveyed said they were beaten at school, including with sticks, canes and sjamboks (whips), a report by the international aid organization, Save the Children, revealed in May.
  • In February, 16-year-old Sandile Melusi Mthethwa was sentenced to "six strokes" by the High Court for culpable homicide.

Torture and misuse of lethal force

  • In January the Prime Minister released the Coroner's report into the death in custody of Madlenkhosi Ngubeni on 22 May 2004. The Coroner concluded that he had been tortured, possibly by suffocation methods, by the police, who had also negligently failed to obtain urgent medical care. The Coroner also recommended that police officers who had tortured him and other detainees be investigated for possible prosecution, and that measures were taken to improve police professionalism. In November, in response to a civil claim for damages instituted by Madlenkhosi Ngubeni's family, the government denied in court papers any responsibility for his death.

There were further reports of torture, beatings and the misuse of lethal force by the police against crime suspects and political activists, and by game rangers, who have immunity from prosecution under the Game Amendment Act, against members of rural communities accused of illegal hunting.

  • Zwelithini Mamba and Andreas Tsabedze, charged with contravening the Game Amendment Act, alleged in the Mbabane Magistrate's court that they had been severely caned and beaten by game rangers when they were arrested in Mlilwane Game Park in July.
  • Steven Thwala, arrested on 17 August and convicted a week later of assaulting a police officer, alleged in court that he had been handcuffed and subjected to suffocation torture. He instituted a civil action against the police for the assault.
  • Police investigating petrol bombings of three police officers' homes arrested supporters of banned organizations. Mabandla Gama, a member of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), was questioned at Mbabane police station on the evening of 2 November. After returning home later that night, he was reportedly taken again from his Nkwalini home by six plain-clothes officers, and beaten and interrogated for several hours before being left at a bus station. He required treatment in hospital for his injuries.
  • On 24 May, Charles Mabuza was shot dead by police who had come to his home to arrest his brother, Mfanzile Mabuza, for illegal possession of a pistol. Mfanzile Mabuza and a police officer, Sergeant Mfanasibili Dlamini, died in an exchange of gunfire. Initially the police said Charles Mabuza had been shot dead by his brother, and arranged a hasty official post-mortem without the presence of a family representative. After intervention by the family's lawyer, a second post-mortem was conducted by an independent forensic pathologist. The physical and ballistic evidence confirmed that Charles Mabuza died from injuries caused by high velocity gunshot consistent with that used in a police-issue R4/R5 assault rifle. No criminal or disciplinary steps against any police officer had been taken by the end of 2005.
  • In December the Siteki Magistrate's Court ordered the police to take detainee Mduduzi Mamba to hospital for examination and treatment after he complained in court that he had been subjected to suffocation torture and beaten while suspended. He was charged with treason and attempted murder in connection with petrol bombings of government infrastructure, and remanded in custody.

Freedom of assembly attacked

  • In August, Roland Rudd and Lynn Dingani Mazibuko, members of the Swaziland Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union, were acquitted of charges under the Arms and Ammunition Act in connection with a trade union demonstration in August 2003. Another accused, Alex Langwenya (see below), had been acquitted in December 2004.

Police used excessive force against unarmed demonstrators in a number of incidents.

  • On 8 September police fired tear gas without sufficient warning at university students, injuring at least 10, including Khumbuzile Nkambule, who was hit in the face by a tear gas canister. The students had gathered outside the government's Cabinet Offices to protest at drastic reductions in the number of student scholarships. Khumbuzile Nkambule and others required hospital treatment. On 12 September the Deputy Commissioner of Police announced an inquiry by the police Complaints and Discipline Unit. No results were announced by the end of 2005. The student complainants expressed concern that no inquiry had been conducted by an independent body.

Demonstrations by opposition organizations were broken up by police on the grounds that they remained prohibited under the 1973 Proclamation.

  • On 1 October tear gas and rubber bullets were used to disperse a SWAYOCO rally in the Manzini area. Police arrested seven SWAYOCO officials and members, including its president Alex Langwenya, who was beaten with batons. On 3 October, Alex Langwenya and six others were charged with malicious damage to property. After several court appearances, they were released on bail and the case was remanded but no trial date was set.

Death penalty

No new death sentences were imposed. Three prisoners remained under sentence of death awaiting the outcome of clemency appeals.

The new Constitution retained the death penalty but stated that the punishment could not be mandatory. However, the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill proposed 14 new offences carrying a mandatory death penalty.

AI country visits

In February, AI delegates met the Prime Minister and other government officials visiting the UK to discuss a range of concerns.

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