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US slams Swaziland protest clampdown

Published on 18/04/2012

The United States on Wednesday slammed Swaziland's heavy-handed clampdown on protests last week, when student and labour activists were blocked from marching against Africa's last absolute monarchy.

“While every government has the right to take appropriate action to maintain peace and security, the government also has an obligation to protect the rights of citizens,” Molly Sanchez-Crowe, spokeswoman for the US embassy in Swaziland, said in a statement.

Swazi security forces blocked marches on April 11 and 12 and stopped a prayer meeting on Saturday, imposing a ban on gatherings of more than two people.

The activists were demanding democratic reforms in the tiny kingdom, which is suffering from a crippling financial crisis that has left the government battling to pay wages and to keep schools and clinics running.

The United States also voiced concern at the de-registration of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland, a new umbrella body for labour unions.

“We urge the Swazi government to take the necessary steps to ensure the promotion and protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Swazi citizens as outlined in the Swazi constitution, including freedom of conscience, of expression, of peaceful assembly and association, and of movement,” the statement said.

Protests against the monarchy have mounted over the last year due to the economic troubles. The king has ruled by decree since 1973, when political parties were banned.