government: absolute monarchy
state of civil and political rights: Not free
constitution: signed by the King in July 2005 went into effect on 8 February 2006
legal system: based on South African Roman-Dutch law in statutory courts and Swazi traditional law and custom in traditional courts
legislative system: bicameral Parliament (Libandla) consists of the Senate and the House of Assembly
judicial system: High Court, Supreme Court, judges for both are appointed by the monarch
religion: Zionist 40%, Roman Catholic 20%, Muslim 10%, other 30%
death row: 1, as of 31 December 2016
year of last executions: 0-0-1982
death sentences: 0
international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights
Capital punishment is mandatory for murder without extenuating circumstances, while treason carries a discretionary death sentence.
Swaziland has executed 34 convicted murderers since independence from Britain in 1968. The last person was put to death in 1982, when a prominent businesswoman, Phillipa Mdluli, was hanged for the ritual murder of her domestic worker’s daughter.
All death sentences are automatically referred to the Court of Appeal. If the sentence is confirmed on appeal, the convicted person has the right to appeal to the King for mercy. The King is advised by the Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy (Justice Minister plus two other ministers and the Attorney General).
On 13 and 14 October 2011, during the sub regional conference on death penalty held in Kigali and organized by Hands off Cain in partnership with Government of Rwanda, the Speaker of the House of Assembly of Swaziland, Prince Guduza Dlamini, expressed an engagement to initiate actions about the removal of the death penalty.
In 2016, no death sentences were imposed in Swaziland, where only one person, a Swazi national, was under death sentence at the end of the year.
Commutations of death sentences or suspension of executions
Until now, King Mswati III has developed a reputation for leniency, using official holidays and royal celebrations to commute death sentences to life terms and life terms to 15 or 20 years.
On 7 August 2015, King Mswati III spared the lives of two death row prisoners commuting their sentences into life imprisonment. The two prisoners who have been pardoned by the King are Mandla Maphalala and Richard Mabaso who had already spent about 15 and 13 years, respectively, for separate crimes involving murder. The King, who is also Commander-In-Chief of Correctional Services, added that all other prisoners would have their sentences reduced. The King announced his pardon during the Correctional Services Day. “As we have said that the Correctional Services has a duty to rehabilitate offenders and make them realise their mistakes, we are pleased to pardon serving prisoners by reducing their sentences,” said the King, as the crowd applauded and shouted, “Bayethe, Wena waphakathi!” [Long Live Your Majesty]. The theme of 2015 Correctional Services Day was “From Prisons to Corrections – 20 years Down Memory Lane”. In his speech, King Mswati III said offenders were directly responsible for their behaviour and, therefore, must learn the full impact of what they did and develop a plan for making amends with the persons they violated.
In November 2016, a delegation of Hands Off Cain led a mission to Swaziland as part of a project supported by the Italian Foreign Ministry. The delegation, led by Antonio Stango (member of the association's Executive Board, and president of the Italian League for Human Rights), was also composed by Eleonora Mongelli, Yuliya Vassilyeva and Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan (Vice President of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty ) and Hon. Roberto Rampi. In Swaziland’s capital, Mbabane, the delegation met with Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, with Prince Hlangusemphi Dlamini, Minister of Economic Planning and Development, with Prince Guduza Dlamini, former Speaker of the House of Assembly of Swaziland (both princes are brothers of King Mswati III), with Senator Edgar Hillary, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and with MP Jan Sithole, president of the Swaziland Democratic Party (Swadepa). During the meetings, attended also by the Ambassador Nicola Bellomo, Head of the European Union Delegation in the Kingdom of Swaziland, the Swazi authorities have explained the constitutional and judicial system of the country. Here, after some royal commutations, only one person sits on death row. There was full agreement of the importance of a favorable vote on the resolution, and insurance to recommend to the Prime Minister to support the initiative. The Prime Minister, in consultation with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has responsibility for the decision during the period in question, given that the King at this time, defined "seclusion", refrains from political decisions.
On 10 May 2016, Swaziland was reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council. The delegation noted but did not accept reccomendations for a legal moratoium on executions, the abolition of the death penalty and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aiming at the abolition. Swaziland said that there is a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in the country.
On 19 December 2016, Swaziland, for the first time, voted in favor of the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly. It was absent in 2014 and voted against in 2012, 2010 and 2008. It abstained in 2007.