Freedom in the World
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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.
- 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.
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.
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.