Swaziland: ICJ alarmed at attacks on the rule of law

In an intervention addressed to His Majesty King Mswati III (photo), the ICJ requested that immediate measures be taken to restore the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in Swaziland.

Full intervention transcript follows:

4 December 2002

His Majesty King Mswati III
Office of the King
PO Box 1
Lobamba, Swaziland
Fax:+ 268 404 2669

Your Excellency,

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) consists of jurists who represent all the regions and legal systems in the world working to uphold the rule of law and the legal protection of human rights. The ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (CIJL), is dedicated to promoting the independence of judges and lawyers throughout the world.

We are deeply concerned that the Government’s disregard for decisions of Swaziland’s Court of Appeal has caused six judges of that court to resign. As you are aware, the six South African judges of the Court of Appeal resigned on Saturday in protest over a Government decision to ignore two court judgements they issued. In addition, we have received information that Swaziland’s lawyers may also strike.

Regarding the en masse resignation of the judges, Prime Minister of Swaziland, Dr. B.S.S. Dlamini, declared in a press statement issued on 28 November that,

“…Government does not intend to recognise the two judgements of the Court of Appeal. The laws of this country will remain as they are – in other words, as if the judgements of the Court of Appeal judges, in these respects, were not effective.”

The Prime Minister also states that,

“The effect of the Court of Appeal judgements would be to strip the King of some of his powers and Government is not prepared to sit idle and allow judges to take from the King powers which were granted to him by the Swazi nation…The Court of Appeal is, in effect, emasculating the legitimate authority of the King – an authority which has been accorded to Swazi kings since time immemorial”

He adds that,

“It is Government’s belief that the judges of the Court of Appeal have been influenced by forces outside our system and that they have not acted independently.”

We are alarmed at these statements emanating from the highest quarters of Government which indicate profound disregard of fundamental international principles on the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. Disregarding the decisions of judges- who are charged with upholding the law – on the ground that they “emasculate the legitimate authority of the King” points to a serious breakdown in the rule of law.

We remind you of the 1985 United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary which state respectively in Principles 1 and 4 that,

It is the duty of all government and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary.

There shall not be any inappropriate or unwarranted interference with the judicial process, nor shall judicial decisions by the courts be subject to revision.

We ask that immediate steps be taken to remedy this situation and ensure respect for the decisions and independence of the judiciary, thereby upholding the rule of law.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Doswald-Beck
Secretary General

cc: Dr. S B Dlamini, Prime Minister of Swaziland,
Government House, PO Box 395,
Mbabane, Swaziland
Fax: +268 404 3943

Hon. Abednigo Ntshangase,
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade,
PO Box 518, Mbabane, Swaziland
Fax:+ 268 404 2669

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