Swaziland: Falana drags King Mswati III to UN over killing of girls en route virgin dance festival


Human rights lawyer Femi Falana, SAN has sent petition to UN Special Rapporteurs requesting them to use their “positions and mandates to thoroughly investigate reports of the unnecessary deaths of at least 60 girls and young women in Swaziland killed in bus crash on their way to dance festival where King of Swaziland, King Mswati III picks one of thousands of topless virgins as his new wife.”

King Mswati

The petition dated 2 October 2015 was sent to Mr Juan Ernesto MENDEZ Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Ms. Dubravka Simonovic Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, and Mr Christof HEYNS Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The petition reads in part: “According to reports, a car or a van hit the back of one truck which resulted in a pileup. The dead were reportedly thrown from the back of the truck which was usually used for transporting building materials and some were said to have been hit by on-coming cars. The festival still went ahead despite reports on the deaths.”

“I urge you to investigate allegations of cover-up and blatant failure of the authorities to prevent the violations of the rights to life, to human dignity, and violence against girls and women, forced marriage as well as to provide effective remedies for the victims and their families.”

“I am seriously concerned that King Mswati III’s regime rather than addressing the serious violations of human rights has continued to prevent and prohibit the publication of these abuses against innocent girls and young women while also compromising the law enforcement agencies in the discharge of their lawful functions.”

“The girls were forced to stand up in the back of an open truck cheek-by-jowl. There was no space to sit down or even to turn around. By forcing the girls and women to travel on the back of open trucks in a convoy, the government of Swaziland has violated also their rights to freedom from cruel, inhuman, degrading or ill-treatment.”

“I argue that the annual Umhlanga Reed Dance itself is unlawful as it has continued to perpetuate forced marriages, entirely inconsistent with international human rights standards.”

“The right to life is enunciated in article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Swaziland has ratified. It is the supreme right from which no derogation is permitted even in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation. It is a right which should not be interpreted narrowly.”

“Article 2 of the Covenant in fact makes clear that the government of Swaziland has affirmative duties to protect the right to life from abuses within its territory or jurisdiction, and General Comment 31 reveals that this duty requires of the government the due diligence to prevent foreseeable violations.”

“I argue that the government of Swaziland has the supreme duty to prevent acts such as those highlighted above that can cause arbitrary loss of life such as the unnecessary deaths of these girls.”

“The expression “inherent right to life” cannot properly be understood in a restrictive manner, and the protection of this right requires that Swaziland adopt positive measures to prevent violation of the right to life, something the government has failed to do in this instance.”

“I also argue that religion, culture and tradition cannot be used to justify human rights violations, including violence against women, which is what the annual Umhlanga Reed Dance constitutes. The continuation of the Umhlanga Reed Dance also gives rise to other human rights abuses, including forced marriages.”

“Under international human rights law, states like Swaziland are to be held accountable if they fail to act with due diligence to prevent violations of rights such as those highlighted above or to investigate and punish acts of violence against women and provide effective remedies and access to justice for victims and their families.”

“By packing the girls on the back of open trucks, the government of Swaziland should have reasonably foreseen that this would lead to violation of their rights to life and human dignity. In fact, due diligence places a strict standard of conduct upon the government of Swaziland to protect all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including the girls and women.”

“I look forward to your urgent intervention in this case so that the government of Swaziland can be held accountable for these serious violations of human rights and victims and their families can receive justice and effective remedies.”

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