Press release

Eswatini: End Use of Lethal Force against Protesters

Regional leaders should condemn deployment of the military to suppress demonstrations.

In response to reports of security forces shooting and killing civilians during protests in Eswatini, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“We condemn the use of lethal force against unarmed civilians,” said Tiseke Kasambala, chief of party for Freedom House’s Advancing Rights in Southern Africa program. “Instead of cracking down on protesters and stifling their calls for change, the government should send the army back to its barracks and allow citizens to exercise their right to peaceful assembly.”

“The deteriorating situation is a clarion call for leaders of the member states of the Southern African Development Community—in particular South Africa—to address the crisis. They should condemn the violent actions of the army and demand accountability from the Eswatini authorities to prevent further loss of life.”

Background

Eswatini is an absolute monarchy ruled by King Mswati III, who has led the country for over 30 years. Political parties are not legally recognized and are banned from contesting elections.

In the past few weeks, students and youth groups have held demonstrations and petitioned government authorities in the cities of Mbabane and Manzini, demanding police reforms and democratic freedoms. On June 28, the protests escalated and spread to other parts of the country after the government issued a decree banning citizens from demonstrating and delivering petitions to government officials. Protesters reportedly engaged in acts of looting and burned buildings and businesses with ties to the monarch. In response, the authorities deployed the army to quell the protests.

On June 29, acting prime minister Themba Masuku released a statement declaring a curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. and closing schools throughout the country. There have also been reports of an internet shutdown.

The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms call for law enforcement officials to “apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.” The UN Human Rights Committee in its General Comment No. 37 states that “any use of firearms by law enforcement officials in the context of assemblies must be limited to targeted individuals in circumstances in which it is strictly necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury.”

Eswatini is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2021.