Swaziland national flag. Photo: WHL Travel
Swaziland Ministers come to Brussels
A ministerial delegation from Swaziland travelled to Brussels this week to respond to demands made by the European Parliament to improve the human and workers’ rights situation in the country.
In May, I led the European Parliament’s work on a resolution which called for concrete actions by the Swazi government. We asked for the unconditional release of trade union leader Thulani Maseko, and all other prisoners of conscience and political prisoners. We also called on the government to engage with trade unions on legislative reforms to enforce Swaziland’s commitment to recognise basic rights such as the freedom to associate and the right to collective bargaining. Crucially, we also warned the Swazi government that failure to act could lead to economic repercussions.
As a developing country Swaziland benefits from important trade preferences from the EU, which are based on conditions to respect human and labour rights. The European Commission is the institution in charge of assessing compliance with these criteria. While the European Parliament cannot decide alone to grant – or remove – trade preferences it can nonetheless play a role in raising awareness on specific issues and influence both the Commission and governments abroad. This is what we attempted to do with this resolution in May.
As a result of the determined action of the European Parliament and others, Thulani Maseko was released from prison. This is to be welcomed and paves the way to resuming meaningful discussions with Swazi authorities. However a lot remains to be done. Swazi trade unions still face widespread violence and discrimination. The human rights situation overall continues to be threatened by the countries’ judiciary lack of independence and arbitrariness.
So we had a lot to discuss this week with the delegation, which was chaired by the Minister for natural resources and the environment (the third highest office in the Swazi government) and the Trade Minister. I met with the Ministers and a number of Swazi MPs on Monday, and questioned the delegation in an official parliamentary hearing organised by the Human Rights sub-committee on Tuesday.
As far as process goes, this is a good step forward. The government of Swaziland showed willingness to engage and this is what we need if we want to be able to improve the situation. Alongside the treaties, regulations and development programmes that frame our relations with Swaziland, developing a concrete dialogue with all the actors on the ground can go a long way in achieving progress. In the Human Rights subcommittee, we got the government to engage directly in a dialogue with Amnesty International representatives. I was not happy with all the answers, but asking the right questions is good way to start.