Amnesty International Report 2016/17 - The State of the World's Human Rights - Swaziland

Legislation continued to be used to repress dissent. The High Court ruled that security legislation violated the rights to freedom of expression, of association and of assembly, which were protected under the Constitution. The findings of an inquest into a death in police custody were not disclosed. There was insufficient protection against torture and other ill-treatment. Legislation gave the police wide-ranging powers to use lethal force, contrary to international human rights law and standards.


Two thirds of the population continued to live below the poverty line. In October, the Afrobarometer research network reported that around half the population said they often went without food and water, and over a third said that medical care was inadequate.

Legal developments

In May, the King appointed seven senior lawyers to act as Supreme Court judges. The appointments were made in contravention of Article 153 of the Constitution, which stipulates that judges be appointed in an open, transparent and competitive process. As a result, the Law Society of Swaziland boycotted the November Supreme Court session and demanded the appointment of permanent judges in line with the Constitution.

In September, the High Court ruled that sections of the 1938 Sedition and Subversive Activities Act (SSA) and the 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) were invalid as they infringed on constitutionally protected rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. The judgment came after provisions in the laws were challenged in the applications filed in 2009 by human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko. Thulani Maseko was charged under the SSA in 2009. Another application was filed in 2014 by Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini, leaders of the banned opposition People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), who were charged under both Acts in 2014; and by Mlungisi Makhanya and seven others, who were also charged under the Acts in 2014. The government appealed against the High Court’s decision in September. The appeal was due to be heard in early 2017.

Freedoms of assembly and association

The Public Order Bill, if passed, would undermine rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Among other things, it would criminalize the act of organizing a public gathering without prior notification to the authorities. The bill, which was expected to be passed by the Senate, before being ratified by the King, remained in draft form at the end of the year.

Freedom of expression

In June 2016, The Nation Magazine published an article by Thulani Maseko in which he questioned the independence of the judiciary. Following this, he and the magazine’s editor, Bheki Makhubu, were served with summonses for defamation by an acting judge of the Supreme Court who had been appointed in May.

William Mkhaliphi, an elderly sugar cane farmer from Vuvulane, in northeastern Swaziland, was arrested by police in August after he voiced concerns about alleged royal investments and land grabbing. He had raised concerns at the traditional Sibaya meeting convened by the King in Ludzidzini Royal Village where the community were invited to give their views on national issues. William Mkhaliphi was charged following spurious allegations of theft and released on bail by the Magistrates Court in Simunye the same month. He was awaiting trial at the end of the year.

Deaths in custody

The authorities had still not made public any findings of an inquest into the death in police custody of Luciano Reginaldo Zavale, a Mozambican national, in June 2015. Independent forensic evidence indicated that he did not die of natural causes and the inquest began in August 2015. According to reports, it reached a conclusion the same year. Luciano Reginaldo Zavale died on the day he was arrested on allegations that he was in possession of a stolen laptop.

Torture and other ill-treatment

The authorities failed to address inadequate legislative protection against torture and other ill-treatment. Swaziland took no steps to enact national legislation to give effect to its obligations under the UN Convention against Torture to which it acceded in 2004, nor to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.

The Constitution (under Section 15(4)) allowed for the use of lethal force by police in a range of circumstances, including to defend property; to make a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a lawfully detained person; to suppress a riot; or to prevent the commission of a serious criminal offence. These grounds remained inconsistent with international human rights law and standards.

There was no independent mechanism for investigating abuses committed by the police. By the end of the year, no investigations had been undertaken into an incident in February when Ayanda Mkhabela, a student at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA), was run over by an armoured police vehicle during a student protest, and left paralysed.

Women’s rights

Despite high levels of gender-based violence, the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill, introduced in Parliament in 2009, had not been enacted. Women and girls experiencing gender-based violence had few remedies available to them under domestic law. Nor were they sufficiently protected in law from forced or early marriages.

Right to an adequate standard of LIVING

In May, Swaziland’s human rights record was examined under the UN Universal Periodic (UPR) review process during which a number of concerns were raised. They included the need to address barriers in access to primary education; the reintegration of girls into the education system after giving birth; non-discriminatory access to health and education services irrespective of perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity; and the need for measures to be taken to combat and eradicate forced labour.

Death penalty

No death sentences were imposed during the year. Despite recommendations for a moratorium on the death penalty during the UPR, the death penalty was maintained by Swaziland.