The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (Southern Defenders) condemns the violent clampdown by the Eswatini security forces to quell the pro-democracy demonstrations against the rule of King Mswati III.
The recent protests were sparked by the decision of government to ban all petitions that were being delivered by citizens of the country calling for service delivery, accountability and democratic change. This decision by the government is in direct violation of the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution protecting the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association in clauses 24 and 25, respectively.
Eswatini is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), which prohibits the cruel and inhuman treatment that pro-democracy activists are currently being subjected to. These rights in the national constitution find resonance with Article 19 of the ICCPR, that affirms everyone’s right to freedom of opinion and expression, which includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference.
Amid the concerns raised by citizens, members of the royal family have threatened protesters with “fighting fire with fire”, with the Commissioner of Police declaring war on the protestors. These utterances show a total disregard for the socio-economic plight of the people, with more than 60% living below the poverty line and high levels of unemployment amid a Covid-19 pandemic that has worsened the situation.
There have been reports of disruptions of movement as protesters barred roads by burning tyres and putting logs and debris on the roads, as well as looting and burning of government facilities and businesses. Businesses and schools have closed down as of today as the protests gain momentum. Southern Defenders urges all protestors to exercise their rights in a peaceful manner and refrain from violence.
Further reports coming out of the country are to the effect that the army has been deployed to increase the number of security forces sent to quell the protests and since then, we have learned that numerous people have been gravely injured and many others have been arrested. Reports from the ground also show that at least 21 people have been killed and for this, we extend our deepest condolences to the bereaved families and wish for a speedy recovery to those injured.
“Southern Defenders is deeply concerned by the reckless use of force by the security forces, which is further worsened by the deployment of the military. We remind the authorities of Eswatini that the right to peaceful assembly is a constitutionally protected right and the police have a responsibility to facilitate and protect the enjoyment of this right. When a decision has been taken to disperse an assembly, the police have a responsibility to communicate in a clear manner and negotiate in good faith and sufficient time must be given to the protestors to disperse.”,Arnold Tsunga, Chairperson of Southern Defenders
Southern Defenders is gravely disappointed by the repeated failure of the security forces to uphold their duties as required by law and therefore makes the following call:
- The authorities should swiftly explore avenues to de-escalate the situation, including addressing the grievances of citizens, as required in a democratic society.
- The Acting Prime Minister should exercise decisive leadership in this time and condemn the excessive use of force and urge the security forces to refrain from any excessive use of force in the future;
- The authorities in Eswatini should uphold its international and domestic legal obligations to respect and uphold the citizens’ fundamental human rights to respect the constitution and guarantee the freedoms of expression, association and assembly. Further the authorities should;
- Call off the army from the streets
- Stop persecuting protesters
- Stop identifying HRDs with their work, as a result of discharging their duties.
- Guarantee that citizens are allowed to exercise their rights without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.
- Those responsible for the death and injuries of the protestors should be held accountable.
- Appropriate police training programmes must be developed and police officials in public order policing should undergo this training as soon as possible.
To contact Southern Defenders and follow up on this matter please call or email: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / +27 73 620 2608