- Judges of Swaziland's Court of Appeal yesterday repeatedly ruled against Swazi authorities, obliging them to allow forcibly evicted families to return to their homes. The government for two years has failed to implement the Court's ruling and the judges threaten not to resume their duties if their order is not carried out.
The Swazi Court of Appeal yesterday defied government pressure and again ruled that royal authorities must comply with its earlier rulings or they will not resume their duties. As of 10 November, the government had failed to implement an important ruling of the Court two years previously, obliging authorities to allow forcibly evicted families to return to their homes.
The Swazi government's failure to implement the Court's ruling seems also to have breached the spirit of a recent agreement, brokered by the Commonwealth and announced on 17 September, to ensure the restoration of the rule of law in the troubled Kingdom.
In the September agreement, the government declared that it "hereby and without qualification undertakes to be bound and to carry out the orders of the Courts of the Kingdom." The judges, who had resigned in protest at the government's refusal in 2002 to implement two key rulings, returned to Swaziland this week in the belief that their judgments had been followed.
The Court of Appeal judges, all of them retired South African judges, resigned in November 2002 in protest at the then Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini's refusal to implement rulings in cases affecting the rights of families who had been forcibly evicted for political reasons from their homes in 2000 and the rights of suspects to apply for bail in certain cases.
In the latter case, the government appears to have complied with the Court of Appeal ruling by releasing some 29 pre-trial prisoners who had been detained unlawfully since 2002. The forcibly evicted families have however not yet been allowed to return to their homes.
The two cases have been described as landmark rulings regarding the implementation of universal human rights in Swaziland. International human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, have repeatedly condemned the forcible evictions as "human rights violations".
Amnesty accordingly today welcomed the position taken yesterday by the judges of Swaziland's Court of Appeal. The human rights group gives the judges its full support in increasing the pressure on Swazi officials.
In October, Amnesty had written to the Swazi Head of State, King Mswati III, to express concern that the September agreement made an exception of the case involving the evicted families of KaMkhweli and Macetjeni, on the grounds that it intended to apply for a "stay of execution of the orders issued." In late September, the police prevented members of the evicted families from returning to their homes, stating that their instructions from government had not changed.
In its letter to King Mswati III, the international human rights group emphasised that his government is "in breach of its international human rights treaty obligations in continuing to prevent the evictees from returning to their homes."
Whatever it intended to do in a future application in court, the government of Swaziland and its agents are obliged both by the ruling of the Court of Appeal in 2002 and the country's human rights treaty obligations to allow the evictees to return to their homes with immediate effect. The evictees also have an internationally recognised right to redress, including financial compensation, according to Amnesty.
The forced evictions were carried out in October 2000. They included the dispossession or destruction of the families' properties and a continuing threat of force to prevent their return. "The effect of these actions on the victims' rights to livelihood, shelter, education and health" where seen as a serious human rights violation.
The continuing denial to the evictees of their human rights in 2004 has also placed the government in breach of its obligations under three other human rights treaties which the country ratified this year, according to Amnesty. These include treaties against torture and for political and social rights.
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