EU parliamentarians meeting in Brussels warned in their resolution that non-compliance would jeopardize Swaziland’s R20 billion in exports to the European Union (EU).
“The Government of Swaziland is reminded that failure to improve its human rights standards and ensuring a legal framework for better working conditions and greater individual freedoms will jeopardise its access to lucrative overseas markets, which deliver higher wages and reducing poverty benefitting the country as a whole,” said the MPs’ resolution.
The EU has begun to display the same frustration with the Swazi government’s obstinacy toward democratic reform and backsliding on human rights that compelled the US to drop Swaziland from the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA). Since the country’s ejection from AGOA on December 31, 2014, the AGOA-dependent textile industry and other export companies have seen factory closures and job losses that have exacerbated Swaziland’s poor economic performance.
The EU parliament noted its “deep concern about the erosion of democracy and basic rights in Swaziland and the increasing brutal manner in which the government is responding to its critics.”
The Brussels resolution called for the dropping of treason charges against pro-democracy activist Mario Masuku, youth political activist Maxwell Dlamini, as well as seven other human rights campaigners. All nine activists belong to the People’s United Democratic Front (PUDEMO), with Masuku as president.
Government banned PUDEMO under an anti-terrorism law formulated to outlaw political opposition to King Mswati, according to Amnesty International, the London-based human rights watchdog as condemned the law as being targeted against domestic opponents of government rather than terrorists.
Under the law, Masuku was arrested on May 1, 2014, for saying his party’s name aloud in a public speech, and the others were arrested for wearing T-shirts inscribed with the PUDEMO logo.
The EU parliament was particularly harsh on Swaziland’s disregard of International Labour Organisation (ILO) efforts to move government toward its labour treaty commitments. “(The parliament) condemns the Government of Swaziland for completely ignoring the recommendations of the ILO High Level Fact Finding Mission report of January 2014 and the repeated calls from the international trade union movement to respect rights guaranteed under international conventions ratified by Swaziland.”
Government spokesperson Percy Simelane, in a statement given to the Times of Swaziland, did not respond to government’s failure to honour treaty and human rights obligations noted by EU parliamentarians but criticised the resolution for circumventing the duties of the Swazi courts by insisting trial defendants should be set free.
“We believe their demands erode the justice they want to defend,” Simelane said.
King Mswati did not mention the loss of AGOA trade benefits when addressing economy matters when he opened parliament in February, but spoke of his government’s intention to step up trade with Europe and other markets. The country’s main export, sugar, depends largely on sales to the EU. Loss of EU trade benefits would further erode Swaziland’s poorly performing economy.
While foreign direct investment in Swaziland consists almost entirely of existing foreign-owned firms reinvesting in their local operations rather than new investment, hope for new FDI will be significantly dimmed if the loss of US trade privileges were to be followed by the cessation of preferential treatment Swazi exports currently enjoy from Europe.