Cape Town, Tuesday, 26 April 2022 – Eswatini celebrates the Kingdom’s National Flag Day on 25 April every year. The day commemorates the anniversary of the national flag that was first hoisted in 1967, ahead of Independence in 1968. While there was so much hope and enthusiasm when the national flag was first hoisted, we note that the country is facing critical socio-economic and political challenges that threaten the basic freedoms and livelihoods of the majority of the citizens, including women, children and the vulnerable in society.
Protests in the Kingdom of Eswatini that started in May 2021 have continued into 2022 and have added increasing domestic pressure for the government to address longstanding demands for democratic reforms. Since late June 2021, repressive laws were used to silence peaceful protesters, including on school children. The army and police forces shot indiscriminately and killed many unarmed civilians and the number of the injured or maimed is reportedly over 1,000 people. The government imprisoned hundreds of people, majority being youth, and for several weeks shut down internet access across the country.
Hopes for a peaceful solution were raised in November 2021 when King Mswati agreed with President Cyril Ramaphosa to accept the involvement of the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) in setting the terms of political dialogue. However, on 3 April 2022, the authorities pulled the country off the agenda of a regional meeting in South Africa which was expected to address the growing crisis in Eswatini as well as a national dialogue process needed to address it. It is hoped that SADC will treat the situation in Swaziland with the urgency it deserves so that the country may be assisted to get out of the current situation that also threatens regional peace and stability. Furthermore, IJR calls for independent investigations into the allegations of gross human rights violations so that perpetrators will be brought to book while victims are compensated and provided with needed mental health and psychosocial support.
The IJR believes that a pathway out of the current crisis involves the implementation of the African Union Transitional Justice Policy (AUTJP) that was adopted by the African Union in 2019.The AUTJP highlights the importance of “fighting impunity” and “bringing an end to any ongoing violence and removing the threats of further violence impacting the affected population” through “addressing the legacies of the past violence and oppression, reconstructing broken relationships and finding ways for individuals and communities to live together.” Over the last two decades, the IJR advocated for the use of inclusive sustained dialogue processes to resolve violent disputes. The Institute actively works with governments, inter-governmental, and civil society actors to directly address the underlying sources of political tension. This is achieved by providing advice on the use of transitional justice and peacebuilding processes to build inclusive and democratic societies.
As the Eswatini recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, the AUTJP should be utilised by all key role-players in the country to initiate inclusive dialogues for peace, justice and reconciliation. IJR calls for the authorities in Eswatini to open up civic space (including online civic space), in particular by guaranteeing the freedoms of peaceful assembly and of expression, while also urging citizens to ensure that technology platforms are not used to spread misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, in the spirit of Ubuntu.