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Catholic Bishop in Eswatini Prays for Victims of Protests, Says Violence Unacceptable

Flag of Eswatini/ Credit: Shutterstock

The Catholic Bishop of Eswatini’s Manzini Diocese is offering prayers for the repose of souls of scores that have lost their lives in the violence that was sparked by pro-democracy protests in the Southern African country.

In a Tuesday, July 6 statement, Bishop José Luis Ponce de León also says that he is praying for the healing of the country that has plunged into chaos, noting that violence is not the best solution to the ongoing crisis in the country.

“May God grant eternal life to all those who have died, consolation to their families and healing to all of us,” Bishop Ponce de León says.

The Local Ordinary on Eswatini’s only Catholic Diocese says that the Catholic Church in the country formerly known as Swaziland is “greatly saddened” by the violence that is causing havoc in the country.

The violence, he says, shows great disregard for human life, human dignity and respect for one's rights.

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The Bishop of Manzini cautions against use of violence in the country saying, “The destruction of property can never be a solution to our problems.”

He further says that violence and the use of force, especially by the country’s “security forces”, deeply hurts the image of the nation that has reportedly been peaceful for years.

“The use of force and violence by the security forces is unacceptable and deeply hurts the image of those who have been called to protect the life of those who live in this country,” the Bishop says.

He adds, “The Church does not and cannot accept violence nor can she accept calls for more violence or revenge for she knows that violence always provokes violence, death, hate in our relationships and destruction.”

In the words of Pope Francis, the member of the Consolata Missionaries reiterates that no future of peace can ever be built on the foundation of violence. He poses, “Can violence achieve any goal of lasting value? Or does it merely lead to retaliation and a cycle of deadly conflicts that benefit only a few warlords?”

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The eruption of violence in the Kingdom of Eswatini in recent days is deeply concerning, amid reports that dozens of people have been killed or injured during protests calling for democratic reforms.

The unrest began in May when students took to the streets to call for accountability for the death of their colleague, a 25-year-old law student, allegedly at the hands of the police.

In late June, the protests grew into daily pro-democracy marches in several locations in Eswatini, with protesters voicing deep-seated political and economic grievances.

Members of the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) have, in a statement, condemned the rise in arbitrary executions, indiscriminate arrests, abductions and a myriad of other human rights violations amid ongoing protests in Eswatini.

This follows a report by Amnesty International that at least 20 people have allegedly died at the hands of security officers in the ongoing protests. Additionally, six people have been unaccounted for and 150 protesters hospitalized for injuries including gunshot wounds. 

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In a Tuesday, July 6 statement, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Elizabeth Throssell confirmed the use of force in the ongoing protests.

“We have received allegations of disproportionate and unnecessary use of force, harassment and intimidation by security forces in suppressing last week's protests, including the use of live ammunition by police,” Ms. Throssell says in the statement.

She adds, “Some protesters were reported to have looted premises, and set buildings and vehicles on fire, and in some areas they barricaded roads.”

“Although the situation is now reported to be calmer, we remain concerned at the potential for further unrest,” the UN official says.

She has urged authorities in Eswatini to fully adhere to human rights principles in restoring calm and the rule of law, in particular the obligation to minimize any use of force in the policing of protests.

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The UN has also called on the government of the Southern African country to ensure that there are prompt, transparent, effective, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations in the ongoing violence.

Those to be investigated are responsible law enforcement personnel in the context of the demonstrations who the UN says should be held to account.

The UN has also reminded the authorities of Eswatini that peaceful protests are protected under international human rights law, including under Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “to which the Kingdom of Eswatini is a State Party.”

Ms. Throssell expresses the UN’s concern following the interruption of internet services in the country saying, “We are concerned at reports that internet services were disrupted last week and urge the authorities to take all steps to ensure that internet access is not blocked.”

“We urge the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to open up a longer-term dialogue to air and address the underlying public concerns that have given rise to these recent protests,” the UN official says.