“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, we assert 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. We remind 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
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
- 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 information on the deteriorating human rights situation in Eswatini available here.