A Nigerian human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has urged the United Nations to take up King Mswati III of Swaziland over the death of no fewer than 60 young women, including virgins in his kingdom.
The young women reportedly died in an auto crash en route the venue of the Swaziland annual dance festival, Umhlanga Reed Dance, where King Mswati III usually picks one of “thousands of topless virgins as his new wife.”
The victims, who were allegedly loaded up into a truck used for conveying building materials, reportedly died following a collision on their truck by another vehicle coming from behind.
Falana, who observed that the annual dance festival and forced marriage were a violation of human rights, called on the UN to take up Swaziland and King Mswati III.
The lawyer said it was particularly insensitive of the Swaziland monarch to have reportedly allowed the dance festival to proceed despite the news of the victims’ death.
He said it was also condemnable that rather than address the issues of rights violation, King Mswati III had continued to cover it up by trying to prevent publication of reports on the incidents.
Falana’s petition, dated October 2, 2015, was sent to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Mr. Juan Ernesto Mendez; the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Ms. Dubravka Simonovic; and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Mr. Christof Heyns.
The petition read in part, “I argue that the annual Umhlanga Reed Dance itself is unlawful as it has continued to perpetuate forced marriages, entirely inconsistent with international human rights standards.
“I also argue that religion, culture and tradition cannot be used to justify human rights violations, including violence against women, which is what the annual Umhlanga Reed Dance constitutes. The continuation of the Umhlanga Reed Dance also gives rise to other human rights abuses, including forced marriages.
“Under international human rights law, states, like Swaziland, are to be held accountable if they fail to act with due diligence to prevent violations of rights, such as those highlighted above or to investigate and punish acts of violence against women and provide effective remedies and access to justice for victims and their families.
“By packing the girls onto the back of open trucks, the government of Swaziland should have reasonably foreseen that this would lead to violation of their rights to life and human dignity.
“In fact, due diligence places a strict standard of conduct upon the government of Swaziland to protect all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including the girls and women.
“I argue that the government of Swaziland has the supreme duty to prevent acts such as those highlighted above that can cause arbitrary loss of life, such as the unnecessary deaths of these girls.
“The expression “inherent right to life” cannot properly be understood in a restrictive manner, and the protection of this right requires that Swaziland adopts positive measures to prevent violation of the right to life, something the government has failed to do in this instance.
“I look forward to your urgent intervention in this case so that the government of Swaziland can be held accountable for these serious violations of human rights and victims and their families can receive justice and effective remedies.”
Falana argued that the Swaziland dance was a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Swaziland had ratified.