Eswatini: New law on sexual and domestic violence a vital achievement and opportunity for change

by | Jul 19, 2018 | News

His Majesty King Mswati III of the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly known as the Kingdom of Swaziland) yesterday gave his royal assent to the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, a milestone in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the country.

In its May 2018 report on key challenges to achieving justice for human rights violations in Swaziland, the ICJ identified the widespread occurrence of SGBV, with discriminatory practices based on customary laws and traditional beliefs undermining equality between men and women and the access by victims of such violence to effective remedies and reparation, as well as the holding to account of perpetrators of such violence.

Eswatini’sNational Strategy to End Violence in Swaziland 2017-2022, produced by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in collaboration with the UN Population Fund, itself pointed to an alarming rate of increasing violence in all its forms, noting that its most common form was gender-based violence, disproportionately affecting women and girls.

The new law follows a protracted legislative process, first initiated in 2009; then resumed in 2015. It has also been accompanied by increasing attention and concern by international human rights mechanisms, including the UN Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Building on ICJ initiatives to bring together international, regional and local SGBV experts in 2015, and on sustainable development goals on access to justice and gender equality in 2017, the ICJ with local partners convened a workshop on combatting SGBV in Swaziland in February 2018. In consultations during and around this most recent workshop, interlocutors signaled fears that the Senate of Swaziland was equivocating on passage of the 2015 Bill. Responding to local partners’ requests, the ICJ made a submission to the Senate in March 2018, bringing to its attention to the global and regional obligations of the Kingdom to enact the legislation, as well as the Government’s own commitments to do so. The Senate soon after voted to adopt the legislation.

The new law for the first time criminalizes marital rape and other domestic violence offences; makes provision for Specialised Domestic Violence Courts; creates mechanisms and avenues for reporting of offences; and requires medical examination and treatment of victims. These are issues that had not been previously provided for.

Enactment of the law is significant, incorporating into domestic law a very large part of Eswatini’s international human rights obligations, including those arising from the Africa region, to criminalize and sanction the perpetrators of SGBV. It also discharges commitments made by His Majesty’s Government during the 2016 Universal Periodic Review.

Just as important will be the effective implementation of the new law to combat SGBV by bringing perpetrators to account and providing victims with access to justice.

With a view to enhancing the prospects of an effective and comprehensive approach to that end, the ICJ’s Commissioner, and Principal Judge of the High Court, Justice Qinsile Mabuza, will next week be coordinating a meeting of governmental justice sector stakeholders involved in combatting SGBV in the country. This first coordinated meeting of governmental actors will focus on issues of investigation, prosecution and sanctioning of sexual and gender-based violence crimes, including the role of social and medical services.

The ICJ is also commissioning a report on the access of victims of SGBV to effective remedies and reparation. Focused on case studies, the report will include attention to lack of justice through acquittals that have been prompted by inadequate laws or procedures and/or through lack of prompt or sufficient forensic or medical evidence. This report will feed into discussions at a second meeting of governmental justice sector stakeholders, intended for 2019.

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