NEW RELEASES – On 22 September 2016, the Human Rights Council carried out a session to consider the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Swaziland. The human rights issues that were dealt with during the discussion included, among others, life conditions of inmates, corporal punishment of children, sexual offences and domestic violence, freedom of assembly etc. However, one of the crucial points that were discussed was the one of the independence of the judiciary. Hence, this Report focuses on this matter since, without independence of the judiciary and freedom of carrying out their work impartially and neutrally, human rights cannot be implemented and enforced correctly.
At the opening of the session, H.E. Mr Edgar Hillary, Minister of Justice of Swaziland, made some initial considerations on behalf of his country. He stressed that Swaziland had received many recommendations: in total, 131 out of 181 were accepted (i.e. 72% acceptance rate.) Importantly, he mentioned several human rights issues that the Government had tried to tackle, at points, successfully. However, remarkably, he did not refer to the independence of judiciary and the steps, if any, which Swaziland might had undertaken to improve the work of judges and lawyers within the country.
In response to the statement made by Mr Hillary, many delegations stood up. It was, however, only the United Kingdom that expressly referred to the fact that the judiciary needs to be fully independent both individually and collectively. Surprisingly, the other delegations didn’t acknowledge this issue, in spite of its vital role in the promotion of human rights.
Importantly, many NGOs – Amnesty International, CIVICUS and Human Rights Watch being three of them - intervened mentioning the serious and urgent issue of lack of independence of the judiciary in Swaziland. They asked for a full commitment on behalf of the country to carry out a full implementation of the recommendations and to engage with the civil society much more in the future.
Specifically, the International Commission of Jurists claimed that the lack of independence of the judiciary derives from the lack of a transparent recruitment and from the non-ratification of the Rome Statue along with many other key international instruments. Therefore, the Swahili government should proactively sign these fundamental pieces of international legislation.
Moreover, the International Bar Association underlined the poor administration of justice in the country, to the point that the Law Society of Swaziland raised concerns over the possibility of a third judicial crisis. Finally, the NGO stressed the need to seek the help from the global community on behalf of Swaziland, in order to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and to effectively engage in the process of judicial reform. Only by doing so, the process of ensuring protection of human rights for all Swahili citizens will be effectively enacted.
Finally, H.E. Mr Edgar Hillary welcomed the fact that there is a need for continuous work and for constructive recommendations. And asked the OHCHR for more support to improve human rights within the country.
The UPR was finally approved. Now we must look at the future of Swaziland and finally practically tackled the issues that the country has faced for many years, with a particular consideration to the one of independece of the judiciary. We can only hope that the interntional community will grant Swaziland its support and that the country will carefully pay attention to the recommendations made by the High Commissioner.
MR - Research Assistant at CIPADH