The Southern African Development Community (SADC) should take concrete steps to improve respect for human rights in Swaziland, Human Rights Watch said.
Heads of state of the SADC’s 15 members meet on 17 and 18 August 2015 in Gaborone, Botswana, for their 35th summit.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement, ‘SADC member states have taken little action to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law in all southern African countries despite identifying peace, security, and the promotion of human rights as key concerns within the region.’
Swaziland is the only member of SADC where political parties are banned from taking part in elections. King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and he chooses members of the government. Opposition groups are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
Human Rights Watch said, ‘In Swaziland, human rights conditions and respect for the rule of law have deteriorated significantly. Restrictions on political activism and trade unions, such as under the draconian Suppression of Terrorism Act, violate international law, and activists and union members risk arbitrary detention and unfair trials.
‘The independence of the judiciary has been severely compromised, as exemplified by the grossly unfair trial of Bhekithemba Makhubu, the prominent editor of the country’s monthly news magazine the Nation, and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer. Both were sentenced on 25 July 2014, to two years in prison on contempt of court charges, then released on 30 June 2015.
‘On 17 June  King Mswati III fired Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi for “serious misbehavior” following allegations of abuse of office and corruption. While that step won’t end corruption or ensure respect for the rule of law, it presents an opportunity for change and for Swaziland’s authorities – and its African neighbors – to demand an independent judiciary.’
Human Rights Watch said ‘In recent years, SADC governments have taken retrogressive steps on rights, weakening and undermining the SADC tribunal and its mandate for human rights protection. In May 2011, SADC leaders dissolved the tribunal as it was then formed and in August 2014 adopted a new protocol for a tribunal that would be stripped of the authority to receive complains from individuals or organizations in the region. A proposed new tribunal will rule only on disputes between member states.
‘”Action to strengthen the SADC human rights tribunal is a litmus test for its commitment to human rights,” said Dewa Mavhinga, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
‘”SADC leaders should change course and restore the tribunal’s power to receive and rule on human rights cases from individuals in member states.”‘