Reflecting on Eswatini's Progress Towards Advancing Universal Freedom

December 8, 2022

UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. George Wachira, and Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Hon. Pholile Shakantu.

UNDP/Mantoe Phakathi

In commemorating Human Rights Day, the United Nations in Eswatini facilitated a roundtable discussion with policymakers, civil society, and private sector partners. The stakeholders reflected on the country's progress towards achieving universal access to human rights and, particularly, the right to education in Eswatini.

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December — the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The UDHR is a milestone document which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being, regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. The theme for 2022 is Advancing Universal Freedom.

UNDP Head of Governance, Ms. Linda Nxumalo, facilitating the roundtable.

UNDP/Mantoe Phakathi

Held in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, civil society organisations, the private sector and development partners, the stakeholders identified gaps preventing citizens from thoroughly enjoying their rights.

Speaking at the Human Rights Roundtable held at the UN House on 07 December, UN in Eswatini Resident Coordinator, Mr George Wachira, said the 2005 Constitution provides the foundation for promoting fundamental rights, including the right to education

Mr Wachira said some milestones in ensuring universal access to human rights include the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act (SODV) of 2018, the Elections of Women Members to the House of Assembly Act of 2018 and the Industrial Relations Act of 2000. These are in addition to many other laws and policies supporting access to human rights while maintaining respect for tradition and custom.

Participants following proceedings

UNDP/Mantoe Phakathi

Through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN has supported the domestication of international instruments by developing and implementing these laws and ensuring that citizens fully understand and appreciate them.

"On behalf of the UN family, I want to express our sincere appreciation to the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs for the strong cooperation and collaboration with the UN in Eswatini, which is based on mutual trust and respect and has contributed to these milestones," said Mr Wachira.

Mr Wachira, however, called on all partners, including the Government, private sector, civil society, religious leaders, women, youth, children, persons living with HIV/AIDS, and persons with disabilities, to ensure that all citizens of the country fully enjoy their rights.

"In the true spirit of the UDHR, we need to change economic approaches and models that have produced untenable social costs, tearing apart the fabric of societies, fuelling `instability and increasing inequalities," he said.

In response, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Hon. Pholile Shakantu said Eswatini had embraced the UNDHR by ratifying critical international instruments that address access to human rights. They include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

"The Kingdom has not only ratified these conventions but has and continues to put in place legislative, administrative and other measures to give effect to the rights and freedoms recognised and guaranteed by these instruments," said Hon. Shakantu.

The Minister appreciated the support provided by the UN to the Government, the Commission on Human Rights and Civil society partners in the realisation of rights in Eswatini. She acknowledged that despite the milestones, there remain some gaps, and the country can best address these if all the partners collaborate and work towards the same goal.

In the context of education, which is the focus of this year's theme, she said the country had made significant strides in providing free primary education and making education accessible to all citizens. However, she acknowledged that there is room for improvement, particularly in ensuring that citizens understand human rights.

"The most important objective of education is to prepare young people for responsible citizenship, work, and skills to live a satisfactory personal life," said Hon. Shakantu.

Partners proposed that there should be more safe spaces to discuss challenges and that awareness of human rights should be taken to the communities.