Sunday, March 15, 2009

Amnesty International bids to mount pressure on SD

Amnesty bids to mount pressure on SD
Sunday Times March 15,2009

MBABANE—Two international organisations are preparing for a global campaign aimed at exerting pressure on Swaziland government’s Suppression of Terrorism Act 2008.
The envisaged outcome from the campaign, which is spearheaded by Amnesty International (AI) and the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association, is to compel government to make amendments to clauses deemed to be in violation of accepted human rights norms.

According to a confidential document that is currently circulating within Amnesty International’s internal structures, the goal of the proposed action is to increase protection of the rights of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly within the context of the government’s implementation of counter-terrorism measures.
The confidential document provides a framework for a campaign on the human rights concerns raised in the recent report prepared jointly by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association, titled ‘The Suppression of Terrorism Act undermines human rights in Swaziland’.

It was published on January 8, 2009. The report highlights the organisations’ concern that certain provisions in Swaziland’s Suppression of Terrorism Act No. 3 of 2008 (‘the Act’) contain impermissibly broad language in relation to the definition of ‘terrorist act’ and related offenses, which can be used to justify the violation of a wide range of human rights, including the rights of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

"The provisions of the Act provide ineffective legal remedies and safeguards to prevent these human rights violations and allows for up to seven days incommunicado detention without charge or trial," reads the AI communicate.

Some statements in the AI and International Bar Association joint report were rebuffed by the Prime Minister’s Office through a much criticised statement.
The proposed campaign, slated for next month, by AI and the International Bar Association seeks to encourage all AI sections and members to lobby and write action letters to the Canadian government, as well as the Swaziland government, and its representatives abroad.

"In mid-April, the AI team will issue an action circular update following their upcoming mission to Swaziland. This will include a membership action to provide solidarity to civil society organisations in Swaziland that are under threat, and potential casework," reads the document, which is in the possession of the Times SUNDAY.

The campaign is expected to run until July 31, 2009.

The following key dates have been identified:
1 April 2009: month of global focus on Swaziland as called for by Southern Africa trade unions
2 April 12,2009: Southern Africa Solidarity Conference in Swaziland organised by Southern African trade unions.
3 May 3, 2009: World Press Freedom Day
4 May 25, 2009: Africa Day

The campaign follows a much publicised outcry against the legislation, and subsequent arrests. The organ-isations that protested against it are Civil Society Organisations which include Lawyers for Human Rights, the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) as well as the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) and its regional counterparts. Their concerns were raised during a series of meetings held in Swaziland and in South Africa, a memorable one being a march staged in Sandton, South Africa during a meeting for the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) heads of state. SFTU and the SUDF were well represented during the march, that also included members of South African political parties under the ruling tripartite alliance.

Campaign to focus on key trading allies
MBABANE—The Amnesty International (AI) and International Bar Association’s campaign against the government will focus on Swaziland’s key trading allies and trading blocs to compel government to amend the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Approach 1:
According to one of the strategies listed in the confidential document, the first approach of the campaign involves increasing international pressure on the Government of Swaziland to repeal or at the very least amend the Act. The campaign is particularly concerned with seeking an amendment to the definition of a ‘terrorist act’ as the very broad definition here affects most of the other provisions of the law.

"Swaziland is economically dependent on several key countries and trading blocs or political unions. A breakdown of the key countries, unions etc that have some leverage over the government of Swaziland is provided," reads part of the document.
"The Swaziland government has specifically justified its passing of this Act on the basis that it fulfils its obligations internationally to counteract terrorism. This was a strong element in the government’s response to the report of AI and the International Bar Association and in its media comments.

"In the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001, the international community, through the United Nations, in particular the Security Council, pushed for all states to implement counter-terrorism measures. However, from at least 2005 there was a growing recognition that more attention needed to be given to member states’ other fundamental international legal obligations, particularly under international human rights law. In that year, Swaziland was a member of the UN Human Rights Commission when a resolution was adopted by consensus to appoint the UN Special Rapporteur on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, while Countering Terrorism," reads the document.

Amnesty emphasises the need to act swiftly as this international shift in emphasis is currently being strengthened by the actions taken by the new President of the USA, President Barack Obama, to undo some of the damage caused by George Bush’s administration’s assault on human rights.

It states that President Obama’s commitment to "reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals" offers the opportunity for governments around the world to act collectively to close a dark chapter of history and place human rights at the heart of their counter-terrorism strategies.

"This momentum is already being felt in Swaziland. For example, on the day of the inauguration of President Obama, the US ambassador to Swaziland stated that Swaziland should repeal its counter-terror law as such measures did not work in the US and would not work in Swaziland."

"Against the background of this shift in emphasis internationally, together with Swaziland’s commitments made in the context of bilateral or multilateral agreements, AI’s actions should seek to encourage strong expressions of concern from officials in or representing key countries or trading blocs or political unions about the impact of the Act on human rights. AI will also raise its concerns directly with the government of Swaziland and its diplomatic representatives abroad.

"Coordinators are asked to prioritise lobbying activities and request meetings with key officials and diplomatic representatives of Swaziland in their own country. Membership letter writing is encouraged to support lobbying initiatives and to target the government of Swaziland directly in the absence of diplomatic representation," it advises.

The ultimate goal for all the strategies is to increase protection of the rights of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly within the context of the government’s implementation of counter-terrorism measures.

The second approach suggested in the document seeks to provide protection of the space for the activities of civil society organisations. Most are being viewed with a suspicious eye by government at the present moment.

Approach 2:
The second approach of the campaign is concerned with supporting civil society organisations in Swaziland, the report states.

"The report was disseminated to a number of civil society organisations after publication, and they have told AI that the legal analysis is assisting their own work in public education on the Act and in legal advice to individuals facing charges under the Act," reads the report, on the section dealing with approaches to the coming campaign.

Currently, Amos Mbendzi and PUDEMO President Mario Masuku have been charged under the Act. Charges against SWAYOCO President Wandile Dludlu, who was arrested for organising an illegal rally, were withdrawn by the state recently.

"The Southern Africa team will continue to work with CSOs in the country on this issue."

"We hope that the first ongoing approach of the campaign will substantially halt harassment of civil society organisations and HRDs arising from the government’s misuse of the law to infringe their rights of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, through raising international alarm at this mistreatment," it states.

"We also intend to focus solidarity action on the organisations under threat themselves, including trade union organisations, to give them support. A solidarity action will be issued in mid-April, and will be accompanied by campaign materials to motivate membership action," states the report.

It further reads: "Individual countries may be able to exert some pressure on Swaziland in the context of their bilateral relations. In regard to the trading blocs or political unions and inter-governmental fora, there will be some requirements which Swaziland needs to meet relating to good governance and respect for human rights. The Swaziland government also values its participation in organisations such as SADC, the Commonwealth, the African Union and the UN."

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