December 3, 2002

Law Practitioners On Strike in Swaziland

Swaziland's judicial system came to standstill on Tuesday, December 3, when law practitioners embarked on a strike to protest alleged interference in the judiciary by Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini.

While judges of the high court were locked in a meeting with Dlamini, lawyers met in the court's chambers where they resolved to embark on the strike in solidarity with the judges of the Court of Appeal who resigned a few days earlier. The six judges, all South African, resigned on Saturday after Dlamini announced he would ignore rulings that limited the power of King Mswati III, Africa's last "absolute" monarch.

Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of two criminal suspects accused of rape, who challenged a royal decree which denies bail to rape suspects. The appeal court ruled that Mswati III had no constitutional mandate to override parliament by issuing his own decrees. Dlamini also blocked the execution of another appeal court ruling, that Police Commissioner Edgar Hillary be arrested for contempt of court for ignoring a high court ruling that he permit the resettlement of political detainees evicted by Mswati from their ancestral lands when the king appointed his brother the new chief of their area. The judges, lead by Chief Justice Stanley Sapire, emerged from the meeting later on Tuesday, December 3, to announce that no solution was reached. The lawyers, who protested under the banner of the Law Society of Swaziland, vowed to continue their action until the Swazi government stopped its interference in the judicial process. "We cannot continue with work when it is evident that the judicial system is in shambles and there is a crisis in this country," said the law society's president Paul Shilubane. "We will stay away from work in solidarity with the other members of the legal profession who are under siege and see if the position of the government will change," he said.

Also on Tuesday, December 3, the powerful labour movements the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions and the Swaziland Federation of Labour announced a mass stay away on December 19 and 20. In a joint statement the two trade union federations said workers would stay away as a sign of "mourning for the death of the judicial and executive systems in Swaziland". "We have duly informed the Swaziland Federation of Employers who have given us their support," the two bodies said. (SAPA, Johannesburg; IRIN)

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