HRC discuss new humans rights policies in Swaziland

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The Human Rights Committee today concluded its consideration of Swaziland’s implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, reviewed in the absence of a report.

In his opening remarks, Edgar E. Hillary, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of Swaziland, regretted that the presentation was the result of the country’s inability to report in a timely manner, due to the lack of institutional memory and dedicated focal personnel.  Since 2005, when the initial report was due, there had been remarkable development in the implementation of civil and political rights.

On 26 July 2005 the Kingdom of Swaziland had adopted a constitution after wide consultation with citizens, civil society organizations, and international and regional partners.  Chapter III of the Constitution entrenched a bill of rights which provided for the fundamental human rights contained in the Covenant, as well as a protection mechanism in cases of human rights violations ruled by the High Court of Swaziland.  Furthermore, Swaziland was reviewing the existing legislative framework with the intention of aligning it with the Constitution and international human rights instruments to which the country was a party.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts acknowledged the fact that Swaziland had been reviewing a number of laws, urging the Government to move along the pending ones.  They drew attention to the somewhat unclear relationship between customary law, common law and the Constitution, especially in the area of land and property rights for widows and orphans.  They also inquired about the context in which a state of emergency could be declared, noting that the King’s 1973 Emergency Decree was used to ban political parties and assemblies for non-political purposes.  Experts also highlighted the issues of discrimination against HIV positive persons, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, the inequality of women in marital status, women’s participation in political life, deaths in police custody, lack of a narrow definition of “terrorist act,” participation in public affairs and the immunity of the King and royal family, child and early marriages, widespread corruption, trafficking in persons, and forced labour.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Hillary noted that the advent of the 2005 Constitution had brought about a need to align Swazi laws with the Constitution.  It was unfortunate that the lack of financial and human resources did not allow the setting up of a law review mechanism.  Nevertheless, numerous draft bills proved the commitment of Swaziland to adhere to its obligations under the Covenant.  To that end, the Government looked forward to guidance by the Committee.

Yuji Iwasawa, Chairman of the Committee, thanked the Government of Swaziland for having submitted written responses to the list of issues and for having sent a high-level delegation.  He highlighted some of the important issues raised by the Experts during the discussion, namely the relationship between customary law, common law and the Constitution, the status of women, polygamy, discrimination against widows, women’s limited access to land, discrimination against HIV positive persons, state of emergency, child and forced marriage, deaths in police custody, independence of the judiciary, and prohibition of political parties.

The delegation of Swaziland consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, the Public Prosecutions Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Human Rights Commission, and the Permanent Mission of Swaziland to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m on July 10th to consider the fourth periodic report of Madagascar.

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