Thursday, July 1, 2004

Commonwealth unwilling to take actions against Swaziland

The People's United Democratic Movement of Swaziland


International Office

Australia, Asian and the Pacific Region


Date: July 1, 2004.

Commonwealth Secretary-General, Don McKinnon, unwilling to take actions against the persistent violations of Commonwealth values by the government of Swaziland.

PUDEMO is extremely dissatisfied and profoundly disappointed with the Commonwealth Secretary-General's response to the political situation in Swaziland. We are particularly disturbed by the recent statement in which the Commonwealth Secretariat expressed its absolute satisfaction with the so-called constitutional making exercise. According to the Swazi News (the Saturday publication of the Times of Swaziland, June 26, 2004), the Secretary-General, Don McKinnon, told King Mswati III at the COMESA conference that he is "quite satisfied with the ongoing commitment to promulgating a new constitution".

In our view, the Secretary-General's utterances are irresponsible and misleading. They are totally incongruent with public opinion. As we have recently pointed out in our correspondence to the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, the people of Swaziland are extremely dissatisfied with the way in which King Mswati's administration has approached the constitutional issue. As we pointed out in the document, a coalition of political parties and trade unions representing a significant section of the population is legally challenging the validity and legitimacy of the constitutional making process. In accordance with international standards of legal procedures, the process should cease until the matter is heard in the High Court. This means that the Constitutional Drafting Commission (CDC) should stop work with immediate effect. We had hoped that the Commonwealth Secretariat would respect this very important judicial principle.

However, it seems that the organisation has joined the government of Swaziland in its total disregard of the rule of law. It is therefore hypocritical of the Commonwealth Secretariat to claim to be committed to resolving the judicial crisis in Swaziland when it also has little regard for judicial procedures. At the COMESA conference in Uganda, Mr McKinnon told reporters that the Commonwealth Secretariat is working with King Mswati III to resolve the judicial crisis. (Swazi News, June 26, 2004). We call upon the Commonwealth Secretariat to honour its principles of justice and democracy by suspending all of its programmes relating to the constitutional process in Swaziland.

The Commonwealth's position on Swaziland is politically unsustainable and is harming any prospects for a transition to genuine democracy. It is morally wrong and not only misleading to the world but also to the government of Swaziland which is encouraged to believe that it is doing the right thing. The Commonwealth Secretariat knows that a legitimate and democratic constitution can not be achieved under the current arrangement. However, it chose deceit over truth. Even one of the long-term supporters of the absolute monarchy, the United Kingdom, has realised that its position is politically damaging to the country and has publicly expressed its concerns about the lack of progress in resolving the constitutional and judicial crisis. Recently, the British High Commissioner, David Reader, commented that it was time for King Mswati III and his government to take action and implement genuine political change (Swazi Observer, June 15, 2004). When a friend begins to tap you on the shoulder you should realise that it is indeed time to recognise that the game is up.

Mr McKinnon and his organisation must therefore hang their heads in shame for continuing to reward a regime that has caused untold grief amongst the people of Swaziland. According to the Swazi News (June 26, 2004), Mr McKinnon dismissed calls for actions against the government of Swaziland for its persistent violations of the Commonwealth's values and principles contained in the Harare Declaration of 19991. At the COMESA conference, Mr McKinnon told reporters that “we’re not carrying any sort of stick” (ibid). Whilst McKinnon was quick to wave a stick against the Mugabe regime, he is giving King Mswati III bags of carrots. It is time for McKinnon and the Commonwealth Secretariat to realise that the stick is the only language King Mswati III and his cronies understand.

We are extremely unhappy with Mr McKinnon's leadership and have no confidence whatsoever that under his leadership the Commonwealth will take meaningful action to help resolve the political crisis in Swaziland. To insist that King Mswati's administration is making good political progress and that the Commonwealth is "not carrying any sort of stick" is unhelpful. From these utterances, it is now indubitable that the current Commonwealth leadership is not interested in the welfare of the majority of Swazis. We therefore believe that the political situation in Swaziland would benefit from the absence of the Commonwealth Secretariat's intervention. However, we are hopeful that in future a better leadership with strong commitment to promote and enforce the Commonwealth's values without prejudice will emerge.

Jabulane Matsebula
The People's United Democratic movement (PUDEMO)
Australia, Asia and the Pacific Region