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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Press Conference by Advocate Pansy Tlakula, Member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Promotional Mission to the Kingdom of Swaziland

At the request of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission), the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland invited the African Commission to undertake a human rights promotion mission to the country from 21 - to 25 August 2006.

The mission was undertaken by Advocate Pansy Tlakula and she was supported by Mr. Robert Eno, Legal Officer at the Secretariat of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The purpose of the mission was to among other things, discuss with the different sectors of the Swazi public, learn about the human rights situation in the country and explore means and ways of working together to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. The mission also sought to engage the Swazi government in constructive dialogue on its human rights obligations in the African Charter and to build a foundation for continued cooperation to work towards the enhancement of human rights.

During the mission, the delegation met and held fruitful discussions with a wide range of persons and institutions in a bid to be properly informed about the human rights situation in the country. The delegation met with government officials including the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice and Education and the Acting Permanent Secretary of Home Affairs. The delegation also met with the Private Secretary of His Majesty the King and on 25 August met with the UNDP.

The delegation also met other relevant institutions including the Law Society of Swaziland, the Peoples’ United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and its youth league, the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO). The delegation also met with civil society organizations including members of CANGO, Lawyers for Human Rights, the Ngwane National Liberty Congress, Foundation for Socio-economic Justice, the Swaziland Federation of Trade Union, the Swaziland National Association of Teachers.

The delegation also held discussions with the Commissioners of Police and Correctional Services and visited the Matsapa and Malkerns Police Stations as well as the Mbabane, Matsapa and Mawelawela Correctional Institutions. Conditions of detention in these institutions were satisfactory save for some overcrowding.

Due to their busy schedule, the delegation could not meet the Speaker of Parliament, the Prime Minister and His Majesty the King.

During the meetings, the delegation was informed about a number of issues that may affect the effective enjoyment of human and peoples’ rights in the country. These issues range from the formation and functioning of political parties, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary. Civil society believes that both the content and the constitutional making process are flawed.

The delegation also raised many issues with the authorities, including the fact that the Kingdom of Swaziland is yet to ratify the Protocols to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa as well as on the establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the submission of Swaziland’s Initial Report to the African Commission in conformity with Article 62 of the African Charter and engaged the Government on the measures taken to implement the decision of the African Commission with respect to communication 251/2002 – Lawyers for Human Rights/The Kingdom of Swaziland.

The delegation is please to note that the government undertook to look into these matters. The government further indicated that the adoption of the constitution was the beginning of a process of domesticating international instruments, including the African Charter. The delegation was also informed of some of the measures being taken by the government to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights, for example, the institution of a toll free line to report cases of child abuse in schools and the transformation of the school curricula to address gender and other stereotypes.

The delegation is however concerned about the low representation of women in the high echelons of the police and correctional services, the seemingly lack of participation of groups and organizations in the constitution making process, the registration and participation of political parties in elections and governance structures in the country.

The delegation believes that the persons met and the discussions held with the different stakeholders have provided it with comprehensive information to be able to have a better understanding of the human rights situation in the country.

It will be premature at this point for the delegation to make any pronouncement on its findings but suffice to say that the delegation had frank and open discussions with all major stakeholders met. From our discussions, one thing that came out clearly is the fact that there is a desire on the part of government and other groups to move the country towards a constitutional democracy where there is respect for human rights and the rule of law. The difficulty however seems to be the approach to be adopted. The delegation believes that this impasse can only be broken if there is political will and genuine desire for dialogue from all stakeholders.

The delegation is going to prepare a report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights with appropriate recommendations on what is to be done. After the adoption of the report by the Commission, it will be communicated to the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland and to the African Union.

The Report will then form the basis for meaningful dialogue between the African Commission and the government on appropriate ways of dealing with human rights issues. This dialogue is what the Commission seeks to establish with all African States.

It is hoped that this mission will further strengthen the cooperation between the African Commission and the Kingdom of Swaziland in the promotion and protection of human rights. It is also hoped that the recommendations that will emanate from this mission shall go a long way to assist the government and the people of Swaziland deal with the situation of human rights in the country.

The delegation would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland for inviting the African Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and in particular, Mr. Thami Dlamini, for facilitating the programme of the delegation. The delegation would also like to thank Mr. Lucas Matsebula, for driving the delegation hundreds of kilometers to meet with the various organisations.