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Executive Summary

Eswatini is a monarchy with limited democratic checks on the king’s power. King Mswati III and Queen Mother Ntfombi, the king’s mother, rule as comonarchs and exercise ultimate authority over the three branches of government. There is a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and House of Assembly, each composed of appointed and elected members. The king appoints the prime minister. Political power remains largely vested with the king. International observers concluded the 2018 parliamentary elections were procedurally credible, peaceful, and well managed.

The Royal Eswatini Police Service is responsible for maintaining internal security as well as migration and border crossing enforcement, and reports to the prime minister. The Umbutfo Eswatini Defence Force also has domestic security responsibilities, including protecting members of the royal family. The Umbutfo Eswatini Defence Force reports to the chief defense officer and the army commander. His Majesty’s Correctional Services is responsible for the protection, incarceration, and rehabilitation of convicted persons and keeping order within corrective institutions. His Majesty’s Correctional Services personnel sometimes work alongside police during demonstrations and other large events, such as national elections, that call for a larger complement of personnel. The king is the commander in chief of the Umbutfo Eswatini Defence Force, holds the position of minister of defense, and is the titular commissioner in chief of the Royal Eswatini Police Service and His Majesty’s Correctional Services. Traditional chiefs supervise volunteer rural “community police,” who have the authority to arrest suspects who commit minor offenses for trial by an inner council within the chiefdom. For serious offenses suspects are transferred to police for further investigation. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

In late June and early July, the country experienced unprecedented civil unrest following the banning of petition deliveries, resulting in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries. The unrest was marked by violence, looting, arson, and large-scale destruction of property. In October civil unrest again sparked protests, resulting in at least one death and dozens of injuries. During the unrest, the military was deployed to restore order, and the government disrupted internet service. The government acknowledged that there were 34 fatalities from civil unrest in late June and early July, but other groups reported much higher numbers. There were credible reports that security forces used excessive force responding to unrest.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; political detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including an allegation of violence against foreign journalists; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; restrictions on freedom of movement; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government was inconsistent in its investigation, prosecution, and punishment of officials who allegedly committed human rights abuses or for government corruption.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future