Freedom in the World 2017 - Swaziland

Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 
Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 

Swaziland, currently ruled by King Mswati III, is often described as the last absolute monarchy in Africa. The king appoints the prime minister and a large portion of the bicameral Parliament, dominates the judicial appointment process, and effectively controls local governance through traditional chiefs. The king and his government determine policy and legislation; members of Parliament cannot initiate legislation or oversee the king’s budget. Political parties are unable to register or participate in elections, meaning candidates must run as individuals. Political dissent and civic or labor activism are subject to harsh punishment under laws on sedition and other offenses. Those who criticize the monarchy can also face exclusion from traditional patronage systems. Additional human rights problems include discrimination against women, ethnic minorities, people with albinism, and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people, as well as lack of enforcement of laws against child labor and exploitation.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • In February, as police attempted to disperse students who were protesting funding problems at the University of Swaziland, an armored vehicle was driven into the crowd, severely injuring one student. There were no reports of any punishment for the incident by year’s end.
  • In September, the High Court found that provisions of two security laws violated constitutional rights. The Supreme Court was expected to hear an appeal of the ruling. 
Executive Summary: 

Despite Swaziland’s poor record on democracy and human rights, King Mswati III commenced his one-year chairmanship of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in August 2016, receiving a tacit vote of support from the region’s governments. On the eve of the SADC summit that month, the king used a traditional people’s assembly to castigate trade union leaders who had criticized Swaziland’s labor rights violations in international forums. Police continued to harass trade unions during the year, blocking demonstrations, raiding offices, and assaulting striking workers.

A report released in October by the International Trade Union Confederation detailed labor exploitation and land confiscation in Swaziland’s vital sugar industry, which is dominated by a royally controlled investment fund. The Times of Swaziland, the country’s only ostensibly independent newspaper, allegedly engaged in self-censorship in its coverage of the report to avoid any criticism of the king.

In September, the High Court found that sections of the Suppression of Terrorism Act and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act were in violation of the constitution’s protections for freedom of expression and freedom of association. The government filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, though there were concerns about that court’s impartiality. In May, the king had appointed seven lawyers to serve as acting Supreme Court judges without adhering to constitutional procedures; the Law Society of Swaziland, which called for permanent judges to be constitutionally appointed, boycotted the court’s November session.

Political Rights

Political Rights 1 / 40

A. Electoral Process 0 / 12

A1. Is the head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
A2. Are the national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair?


B. Political Pluralism and Participation 1 / 16

B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system open to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
B2. Is there a significant opposition vote and a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group?
B4. Do cultural, ethnic, religious, or other minority groups have full political rights and electoral opportunities?


C. Functioning of Government 0 / 12

C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
C2. Is the government free from pervasive corruption?
C3. Is the government accountable to the electorate between elections, and does it operate with openness and transparency?


Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties 17 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief 7 / 16

D1. Are there free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression?
D2. Are religious institutions and communities free to practice their faith and express themselves in public and private?
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free of extensive political indoctrination?
D4. Is there open and free private discussion?


E. Associational and Organizational Rights 2 / 12

E1. Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion?
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations?
E3. Are there free trade unions and peasant organizations or equivalents, and is there effective collective bargaining? Are there free professional and other private organizations?


F. Rule of Law 4 / 16

F1. Is there an independent judiciary?
F2. Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Are police under direct civilian control?
F3. Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system? Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights 4 / 16

G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of travel or choice of residence, employment, or institution of higher education?
G2. Do individuals have the right to own property and establish private businesses? Is private business activity unduly influenced by government officials, the security forces, political parties/organizations, or organized crime?
G3. Are there personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family?
G4. Is there equality of opportunity and the absence of economic exploitation?


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

Explanatory Note: 

This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Swaziland, see Freedom in the World 2016.