Eswatini: Condemnation of assassination of renowed HRD Thulani Maseko

23/01/2023
Press release
Credit: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP

January 23, 2023

Johannesburg | Mbabane

“They have intended to hurt us, to break our spirit, our moral strength and crush our resilience so that we succumb to their evil desires.” Excerpts from an open letter from prison written by Thulani Maseko in 2015.

We express our pain and outrage at the brazen assassination of renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko who was gunned down at point-blank range, in front of his wife and children at his home in Luhleko, Mbabane, on the evening of January 21, 2023. This atrocious, cowardly and cold-blooded act came a few hours after King Mswati had issued ‘stern warnings’ to those calling for democratic reforms in the country, and that his hired mercenaries would deal with them.

At the time of his death, Maseko was a senior member of Lawyers for Human Rights Swaziland, and chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum, a convergence of various stakeholders calling for constitutional reforms in Eswatini. As one of the founding members of SouthernDefenders, Maseko made an immense contribution to the advancement of justice and human rights not only in Eswatini but throughout the Southern Africa region. He has carried out several fact-finding missions to countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi where he reported on the deterioration of civic space in the region.

A staunch believer in the rule of law and constitutionalism, Maseko used his professional legal skills to advocate for democratic reforms and peaceful transition. It is deeply saddening that his work and selfless dedication has been repaid in such a ruthless and callous act.”, said Professor Adriano Nuvunga, Vice-Chairperson of SouthernDefenders.

In Eswatini, many will attest that Maseko persistently preached the message of peace and love. In the face of great adversity, Maseko remained steadfast in the fight for freedom and justice, courageously raising awareness of the injustices suffered by the people of Eswatini. It is deeply saddening that he has paid the ultimate price with his life in this gruesome and callous manner.

While the government of Eswatini issued a statement condemning the murder of Maseko and its intention to investigate, SouthernDefenders asserts that, given the political environment, only an independent investigation can ensure that those responsible for the assassination of Maseko and many others brutally injured and killed are brought to justice and their families rightfully compensated. We, therefore, call on SADC, the African Union, and the international community to hold the leadership of King Mswati III accountable for the violence that continues to be meted against the people of Eswatini, merely for advocating for their recognized fundamental human rights, including political participation.

We are gravely concerned that the killing of Maseko signifies an increasingly dangerous deterioration of the political crisis in Eswatini. It is terrifying to observe the monarch clamp down on the people it is meant to serve and protect. Eswatini as a member of SADC and signatory to its Treaty is bound to uphold Article 4 of the Treaty which explicitly states that the principles guiding the acts of its members are human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Article 5 of the Treaty further requires all states to promote and defend peace and security. SouthernDefenders reminds Eswatini that as a member state of SADC, its government should comply with the principles and guidelines to which the region is bound. The state of affairs in Eswatini is a clear reflection of the failure of the country’s leadership to defend and maintain peace, security and transparency for its citizens. SADC cannot continue to stand by and watch.

We wish to express our heartfelt condolences to Thulani Maseko’s wife Tanele, their children, the Maseko family, and the human rights community in Eswatini. We reassert our support for and uncompromising solidarity with the people of Eswatini in their continued quest for democracy. We call on the greater Africa and its friends to stand in solidarity with us on behalf of Maseko. His unshaken commitment to the achievement of justice and freedom will be our beacon for all time.

We strongly urge the Eswatini government to:

*Immediately allow for an internationally supported, thorough, independent and expeditious investigation into the circumstances of the killing of Thulani Maseko and others killed since 2021, to ensure justice and full accountability.
* Respect, protect and promote the rights of all under the jurisdiction of Eswatini to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and political participation even if they hold opposing views.
*Release all political prisoners and refrain from the excessive use of force to disperse protestors and refrain from the arbitrary arrest, detention, harassment or intimidation of pro-democracy activists and others expressing opposing views.
*Immediately end the violent rhetoric against pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders.
*Immediately allow for an inclusive and genuine political dialogue to usher in a democratic dispensation in Eswatini.

We call on SADC to:

*Immediately set up a task force or oversight mechanism to ensure a swift, thorough and independent investigation into the arbitrary killing of Thulani Maseko and all other pro-democracy activists in Eswatini, that have taken place since 2021.
*Hold King Mswati III and the government of Eswatini accountable for the ongoing gross violations of human rights, including arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force against protesters, abductions and extra-judicial killings of activists.
*To evoke Article 4 and 5 of the Treaty which clearly stipulate the principles of democracy, rule of law and human rights that guide the acts of member states, and the democratic and political institutions that are to achieve this, taking all necessary steps to ensure adherence by Eswatini.
*Ensure the government of Eswatini respects, protects and fulfils its human rights obligations, in accordance with international and regional human rights law and standards as set out in the African Charter for Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
* Robustly engage with King Mswati III and his government, opposition and civil society leaders, and other relevant stakeholders in and outside Eswatini to urgently broker an end to the ongoing political crisis and the ushering in of democratic reforms.

Background on the Deteriorating Human Rights Situation in Eswatini:

Since June – July 2021, one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarch has been rocked by nationwide protests which began against police brutality but have now metamorphosed into sustained demands of democratic reforms, and an end to the excessive opulence of the Monarch, in the face of being one of the region’s poorest economies. In response, King Mswati III’s government has retaliated with excessive force, arbitrary arrests, detention, and abductions of pro-democracy leaders and protestors, as well as the shutdown of the internet, and blanket bans on protests. More than 80 people have been killed, 200 plus injured, and thousands of others arrested and detained. Currently, two Members of Parliament have been arbitrarily detained for 18 months, facing criminal prosecution under the Suppression of Terrorism Act in relation to their involvement in the protests. SouthernDefenders has directly received reports of lawyers and judges being harassed, threatened, and intimidated for their real or suspected support of the ongoing pro-democracy movement. Just last month, SouthernDefenders assisted one human rights lawyer who narrowly escaped death after gunshots were fired at his car. Fearing for his life, he was forced into exile, like many other citizens.

Despite efforts by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to resolve the crisis, King Mswati III has ignored the pleas of citizens, opposition politicians, civil society, the regional and international community, and instead escalated the government’s crackdown on dissenting voices. He has openly called for an “eye for an eye” and failed to genuinely engage in dialogue. Recently, the government was accused of hiring mercenaries to assist its security forces in suppressing opposition voices. Credible reports indicate that Mercenaries wearing baklavas, are working alongside State security forces, and manning roadblocks in the country. The existence of mercenaries in the country and the chilling remarks made by King Mswati III point to a state-sponsored assassination of Maseko.

For further enquiries please contact

Washington Katema, Director: wkatema@southerndefenders.africa (+27 73 620 2608)
Meamande Wamukwamba, Programmes Manager: mwamukwamba@southerndefenders.africa (+27 630 072 402)

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  • Co-signatories

    Endorsed by the following civil society organizations:

    DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
    Front Line Defenders
    Panos Institute Southern Africa
    Center for Democracy and Development (CDD)
    Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
    Centre for Human Rights
    Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)
    Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network (RMDDH)
    University of Pretoria
    Zimbabwe Human Rights Association
    Observatoire des droits de l’Homme au Rwanda – ODHR
    Seinoli Legal Centre – Lesotho
    Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
    SADC-Lawyers Association (SADCLA)
    The National Association of Democratic Lawyers
    Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition
    Plataforma da Sociedade Civil em Manica (PLASOC)
    Associação Socorro de Moçambique (SOCORRO)
    Faith and Hope Association
    Associação Moçambicana Sou Jovem
    Associação para o Desenvolvimento Comunitário
    Associação MW-Chimoio
    Associação Moçambicana de Mulheres com Deficiência
    Associação Dos Direitos Da Vida Humana
    Silver Lining Moçambique
    Tearfund
    Associação ADCEM
    Missão Cristã para Desenvolvimento Rural
    Rede Comunitária
    Associação AkA Power
    Botswana Council of Non-Govermental Organizations (BOCONGO)
    Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET)
    Human Rights Defenders Coalition – Malawi
    Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe
    Freedom House
    Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
    Regional Watch for Human Rights
    Southern Africa People Solidarity Network (SAPSN)
    Letsema Centre for Development and Democracy
    Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka
    Kenya Human Rights Commission
    KUTAKESA
    Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI)
    Zimbabwe Human Rights Associate
    Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits Humains
    Zambia Council for Social Development
    Yetu Infotech Collective
    Defenders Coalition
    Réseau Nigerien des Défenseurs des Droits Humains
    Mqanduli community advice office
    Centro de Estudos Moçambicanos e Internacionais (CEMO)
    Raise the Young Foundation
    ODIMA NGO
    Swaziland Concerned Church Leaders
    Centre for Women Human Rights Defenders in Africa
    Southern Africa Women Human Rights Defenders
    Political Prisoners in Africa
    Civic Space Network
    African Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders
    Civic Space Network
    Chapter One Foundation
    Gun Free SA
    Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement South Africa
    West African Human Rights Defenders’ Network
    KwaZulu-Natal Monitor
    Zimrights
    The Good Samaritan Association
    LDDH Djibouti
    The Public Interest Practice
    Integrity Magazine News
    Center for Artists’ Human Rights in Southern Africa
    La Via Campesina Southern and Eastern Africa
    Swaziland Concerned Church Leaders
    Zambia Human Rights Defenders Network (ZHRDN)
    African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
    Swaziland Rural Women’s Assembly
    International Labour, Research and Information Group (ILRIG)
    Khulumani Support Group
    International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) CSO National Chapter
    Green Governance Zimbabwe Trust
    Botswana Watch Organization
    International Commission of Jurists
    Network of the independent Commission for Human rights in North Africa CIDH AFRICA
    Free Press Initiative Zambia
    Lumiere Synergie pour le Developpement
    Civic Commission for Africa (CCFA)
    Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice
    Open Society- Africa
    Gender Centre for Empowering Development (GenCED)
    Action for Civic Participation
    Zambia Social Forum (ZAMSOF)
    Fórum Nacional de Rádios Comunitárias (FORCOM)
    South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network
     Lawyers for Human Rights
    Kanye Independent Living Centre (KILC)
    Jamaa Resource Initiatives
    Protection International Africa
    Partenariat pour la Protection Integree-PPI/DRC
    Observatoire des droits de l’homme au Rwanda ( ODHR)
    Chitungwiza Residents Trust
    Vostile Creatives Trust
    Jersey Farm Advice and Information Centre
    Associação Comunitária Matsatsi
    ActionAid South Africa
    Transnational Institute (TNI)
    Permanent Peoples Tribunal
    Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC)
    Associação de Assistência Psicológica à Comunidade
    National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders
    The Peace Centre
    Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD)
    Centre for Artists’ Human Rights in Southern Africa
    REMAC
    Haki Africa
    AntiRepression Collective
    Pan Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (AfricaDefenders)
    Defender Defenders
    Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)

    Endorsed by the following individuals:

    Arnold Tsunga
    Prof. Adriano Nuvunga
    Lucia da Silveira
    Tiseke Kasambala
    Alice Mogwe
    Prof. Sishuwa Sishuwa
    Roshnee Narrandes
    Washington Katema
    Simphiwe Sidu
    Meamande Wamukwamba
    Constance Mukarati
    Jacob van Garderen
    Charles Chimedza
    Laswet Savadye
    Bongani Ngwenya
    Sheila Nhancale
    Laura Rwambiwa
    Keiso Mohloboli
    Zakaria Abdillahi
    Tatenda Mazarura
    Makanaka Makonese
    Tankiso Motipi
    Roselyn Hanzi
    Blessing Gorejena
    Lloyd Kuveya
    Norman Lala Tjombe
    Vusumuzi Sifile
    Fidelis Mudimu
    Mark Heywood
    Faith Munyati
    Mpangi Kwenge
    Martin Masiga
    Munjodzi Muatandiri
    Thulani Mswelanto
    Muzi Masuku
    Lepeli Moeketsi
    Siphosami Malunga
    Kumbirai Mafunda
    Justice Alfred Mavedzenge
    Maxwell Nkambule
    Busisiwe Zasekhaya
    Nomathamsanqa Masiko-Mpaka
    Ashwanee Budoo-Scholts
    João Nhampossa
    Francisco Rafael Gale
    Micaela Bungueia
    Henriques Henriques
    Assimone Bonifácio
    Menezes Lino
    Georgina Nicolau Cauzande
    Beatriz Augusta Roque Remane
    Danilo Mairoce
    Pedro Tawanda
    Rângel António
    Belita José Ernesto Njirazafa
    Felisberto Andreque
    Afonso Costina
    Dealton de Araujo
    Raúl Maharate
    Baltazar José Fazenda
    Edgar Jone
    Antonio Muredzere
    Líria de Araújo
    Julia Wachave
    Isabel Próstamo
    Otto Saki
    Aly Caetano
    Albertina Armando
    Mitilage Nantica
    Félix Fernando chinanga
    Isabel Matos
    Boniface Cheembe
    Janet Zhou
    Godinho Cristóvão
    Whitney Mulobela
    Leah Diana Mitaba
    Sinah Teemane
    Mary Pais Da Silva
    Nikiwe Kaunda
    Annah Moyo
    Andrew Matayataya
    Vusumuzi Sifile
    Dr. Musa Kika
    Bennitto Motitswe
    Anschaire Nikoyagize
    Davis Malombe
    Munyaradzi Tsunga
    Tawanda Mugari
    Me Zakaria
    Munyandilikirwa Laurent
    Barrister Tola Thompson Adebayor
    Monametsi Sokwe
    Joan Chirwa
    Stanley Nyamanhindi
    Ghalib Galant
    Danilo Mairoce
    Barrister Mayomi Afekuiah
    Ferosa Chaúque
    Dra. Sheila
    NAJi Moulay lahsen
    Esther Tawiah
    Alice Kuveya
    Rângel António
    Thapelo Mohapi
    Linda Kasonde
    Henriques Henriques
    Wayne Ncube
    Omardine Zacarias Omar
    Jone Arão Bambamba
    Maungo T Mooki
    Malven Daka
    Olive Moore
    Creva Pereira Gama
    Wilbert Mandinde
    Onkabetse Ketshabile
    James Bidal Asu
    Barrister Mayomi Afekuiah
    Gershom Kabaso Jr
    Thabo Masuku
    Mark Weinberg
    Obino Nyambane
    Dale McKinley
    Brian Ashley
    SHARIFF Bonnie Florencia
    Elpídeo FA Mutemba
    Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh
    Nyeoe Ntene
    Thozama Dyantyi
    Sifiso Dladla
    André Catueira
    Hassan Shire
    Líria de Araújo
    Jacob van Garderen
    Nzira Razao
    Gianni Tognoni, Secretary General
    Dzikamai Bere
    Susan Muriungi
    Maria Antônia Domingos Campira
    Mary de Haas
    Hussein Khalid
    Marjorie Jobson
    Yona Wanjala
    Fiona Dove
    Brid Brennan
    Mesud Gebeyehu Reta
    Melanie SONHAYE KOMBATE
    Nada Awad
    Bonsile Mamba- National Chairperson
    José Ivo Correia
    Yankuba Keita
    Frank Mpahlo
    Gift Trapence.
    KANNI Abdoulaye
    Robert R. Kirenga
    Pascal Mupenda
    S Nyembe
    Robert Letsatsi
    Elisa Comé
    Kelly Gillespie
    Dr Justice Mavedzenge


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