Head of state: King Mswati III
Head of government: Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
Population: 1.2 million
Life expectancy: 47 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 111/92 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 86.5 per cent

Human rights defenders and political activists were subjected to arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and harassment. Sweeping provisions in anti-terrorism legislation were used to detain and charge political opponents. Torture and incidents of unjustified use of lethal force were reported. The Prime Minister appeared to publicly condone the use of torture. Discriminatory laws affecting women's rights were not repealed. Over 41 per cent of women attending antenatal clinics were HIV positive. Access to treatment for AIDS in rural areas was undermined by poverty and shortages of drugs and doctors.


The government continued to exclude governance issues from its dialogue with the trade union movement and civil society. An ILO delegation visited the country in October to investigate complaints of restrictions on freedom of association.

Swaziland's economy continued to decline, with a fall of 62 per cent in revenue from the Southern African Customs Union, and rising levels of unemployment and poverty. Average life expectancy continued to fall due to the twin epidemics of HIV and tuberculosis.

Repression of dissent

Civil society and political activists reported incidents of ill-treatment, house searches and surveillance of communications and meetings. Some planned protests and trade union marches were disrupted during the year, although a large trade union-led march in November proceeded without incident.

  • In June and July, armed police conducted raids and prolonged searches in the homes of dozens of high profile human rights defenders, trade unionists and political activists while investigating a spate of petrol bombings. Some of the searches, particularly of political activists, were done without search warrants. Some individuals were taken to police stations and interrogated about their activities and at least two activists reported being subjected to torture by suffocation and beatings.

  • On 6 September, in a bid to disrupt planned protest marches, police broke up a peaceful civil society meeting in Manzini. They unlawfully arrested more than 50 people including human rights defenders and foreign trade union officials. Police also seized camera equipment, threatened and detained one journalist and assaulted another. After their release or deportation some of them reported that they had been assaulted at the time of their arrest. The marches, organized by the Swaziland labour federations and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, went ahead on 7 and 8 September under heavy police and military presence.

On 8 September, the Prime Minister stated at a press conference that torture should be considered as a form of punishment against "interfering foreigners" and dissidents. There was no clear repudiation of his widely reported comments later from his office.

Counter-terror and security

The authorities continued to use the sweeping provisions of the 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) to detain and charge political activists. The STA was also used as a basis for search warrants and other measures to intimidate human rights defenders, trade unionists and media workers.

  • In June, Zonke Dlamini and Bhekumusa Dlamini, both members of an organization banned under the STA, were arrested separately in connection with police investigations into petrol bombings. They were charged under the STA and denied bail after a High Court hearing. The court was informed during the hearing that they had been subjected to suffocation torture and other ill-treatment in police custody following their arrests. Zonke Dlamini also alleged that his confession, which led to the arrest of Bhekumusa Dlamini, had been extracted under duress. Trial proceedings had not concluded by the end of the year.

Death in custody

  • Political activist Sipho Jele died in Sidwashini Remand Centre several days after being arrested at a May Day workers' rally. On 3 May he was charged in the High Court under the STA, apparently because he was wearing a T-shirt and possessed a membership card of an organization banned under the STA. He was not represented by a lawyer and no record was kept of the proceedings. It later emerged that he asked the court not to remand him back into police custody for fear of being tortured. He was found hanging in his cell block on 4 May. The Prime Minister, in an unusual step, ordered an inquest into his death. A range of witnesses was heard in open court. The coroner had not reported her findings to the Prime Minister by the end of the year. Sipho Jele had been detained previously in 2005 and allegedly tortured before being charged with treason, for which he was never brought to trial.

Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression continued to be restricted by statutory laws affecting the media, sweeping provisions under the STA, and specific threats made by public officials against journalists and editors.

  • In March, Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the independent publication, The Nation, appeared in court to answer charges of "criminal contempt of court". The charges arose from two articles expressing concern about the rule of law in Swaziland. The case had not been heard by the end of the year.

Excessive use of force

The misuse of deadly force by the police and other law enforcement officials continued to be reported, with evidence indicating that the victims were not posing a threat to life when they were shot. In January, the then Chairperson of the Human Rights and Public Administration Commission, Rev David Matse, publicly expressed concern that police and soldiers appeared to be using a "shoot-to-kill policy" which violated the right to life.

  • On 3 January, Sicelo Mamba was shot dead, allegedly by security guards protecting a farm and wildlife reserve. He was shot three times with a high velocity rifle, twice in the head. The security guards and their employer, a prominent farmer, appeared to believe that they had immunity from prosecution under the 1997 Game Act. No official investigation had been instituted by the end of the year.

  • On 14 February, Sifiso Nhlabatsi was allegedly shot by police while he was handcuffed and in their custody. He had been removed from Mbabane police station cells and taken to Thembelihle forest where he was interrogated, allegedly assaulted and shot. He required hospital treatment for gunshot injuries to his upper back. The police publicly stated that they had shot him "in the buttocks while trying to escape during his arrest".

Women's rights

Finalization of draft legislation affecting women's right to equality continued to be delayed, despite recognition in Swaziland's MDG Report for 2010 that this was leading to the feminization of poverty. The persistence and scale of gender-based violence was confirmed in the same report as "a major problem". In August, the government approved a National Gender Policy document.

In May, the Supreme Court overturned on technical grounds a High Court decision granting some married women the right to own immovable property. However, the appeal judges agreed that the relevant provision of the Deeds Registry Act of 1968, which denied these women this right, was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court gave parliament a year to amend the provision.

In October, the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill was introduced in parliament for full debate, more than five years after it was initially drafted. The Bill had not been enacted by the end of the year.

Right to health – poverty and HIV

Swaziland's HIV prevalence rate among adults aged 15-49 years remained the highest in the world. Women remained disproportionately affected by the epidemic, with the majority of new infections continuing to occur in females. In November, the Minister of Health announced a slight decline since 2008 to 41.1 per cent in the HIV prevalence rate among pregnant women attending antenatal clinics. Government officials stated at the UN in October that women were providing 90 per cent of all care for people with AIDS-related illnesses.

Just over 50 per cent of people needing antiretroviral therapy (ART) were receiving treatment in 2010. Access and adherence to ART continued to be hampered by shortages of medical staff and drugs. Socio-economic barriers included unaffordable public transport for patients in rural areas. Improved treatment outcomes were reported, however, from a capacity-building project for clinics in the poorest region, Shishelweni, jointly run by Médecins Sans Frontières and the Ministry of Health.

Right to education

In March, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to free primary school education was not a fundamental right. Despite a 2009 High Court ruling affirming this obligation under the Constitution, the Supreme Court stated that the problem was a question of the availability of resources, "not a fastidious insistence on the true and proper interpretation of section 29(6) of the Swazi Constitution". The appeal had been lodged by the Swaziland National Ex-Mineworkers Association after their application for an order to enforce the 2009 ruling had been dismissed in January 2010.

Death penalty

Although the 2006 Constitution permits the use of capital punishment, no executions have been carried out since 1983. No new death sentences were imposed in 2010. Two people remained under sentence of death. Public calls for the resumption of executions were made in response to incidents of violent crime.

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