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Eswatini 2023

The authorities enjoyed impunity for attacks on human rights defenders and activists, and failed to investigate the unlawful killing of Thulani Maseko. Rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly were routinely violated. Opposition activists and dissenters faced unfair trials and harsh punishment. The right to health was restricted. Hundreds faced forced eviction. The government refused to allow an LGBTI rights group to register despite a supreme court ruling.


Parliamentary elections were held in August and September. A 1973 decree banning political parties remained in place, under which only independent candidates can run for election. King Mswati III held ultimate authority over all branches of government.

Unlawful attacks and killings

In January, human rights lawyer and activist Thulani Maseko was assassinated in his home. Despite condemnation and calls from the international community to conduct a transparent, independent and impartial investigation, the government has made no progress towards ensuring accountability for the killing. Thulani Maseko was killed weeks after attacks were carried out on human rights lawyer Maxwell Nkambule, and Penuel Malinga and Xolile Dlamini-Malinga, both members of the banned opposition party, People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO). The authorities failed to investigate these, and other unlawful attacks and killings carried out since the government launched a brutal crackdown in response to pro-democracy and anti-police brutality protests in 2021. They also failed to bring to justice suspected perpetrators and ensure access to justice and effective remedies for victims.

Freedom of expression, association and assembly

The authorities continued the persecution of members of the Swaziland Transport, Communication and Allied Workers Union (SWATCAWU) for organizing national strikes in 2022 to demand improved working conditions and political reform. Trumped-up charges of contempt of court were brought against SWATCAWU and two other labour unions; and in January the Royal Eswatini Police Service issued an arrest warrant for SWATCAWU’s general secretary, Sticks Nkambule. Routine threats, intimidation and harassment by security forces led him to flee into hiding.

On 25 January, police violently repressed student protesters in the city of Manzini, and arbitrarily detained student leaders. Two days later, two activists were injured when police used live ammunition against protesters who were delivering a petition to the Manzini police headquarters.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Arbitrary detention remained part of the state strategy of repression. On 1 June, former MPs Mthandeni Dube and Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza were found guilty of terrorism, sedition and murder under the 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act. They were arrested for publicly calling for political reform during the 2021 protests and face up to 20 years in prison. While in detention during 2022, they were beaten by correctional services officers, and denied access to their lawyers and medical treatment.

The security forces arbitrarily detained and tortured political and labour activists, including Brian Sihlongonyane, a PUDEMO member, who was abducted, tortured and dumped in a forest by members of the Umbutfo Eswatini Defence Force after he led the peaceful delivery of a petition to the UN on 12 April.

In separate incidents in June and July, police detained and beat members of the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) before releasing them without charge. The CPS members also reported that they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in police custody. No investigations were carried out by the authorities into the allegations made against the security forces.

Right to health

Public healthcare remained systemically under-resourced, resulting in nationwide demonstrations in June and July. Health personnel and patients protested against the government’s failure to supply drugs, medical supplies, equipment, transport and fuel in public clinics and hospitals. The health minister acknowledged the crisis, and later announced that a sub-committee tasked by the cabinet had introduced strategies for the sustainable financing and delivery of healthcare.

Forced evictions

Hundreds remained at risk of forced evictions as the government failed to reform the country’s land governance system, which limits the right to security of tenure. Communities in Sigombeni and the Malkerns continued their legal challenges to evictions.

LGBTI people’s rights

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct remained a criminal offence, and discrimination against LGBTI people and organizations was widespread. In July, the Supreme Court ruled that the Registrar of Companies’ refusal to register the Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities (ESGM) as a non-profit organization was unconstitutional. The acting minister of commerce and trade rejected the ruling citing “Roman-Dutch Law”, and directed the registrar to refuse ESGM’s application.