By Melanie Nathan, January 30, 2023
AHRC joins global experts in condemning the killing of human rights defender Thulani Maseko, and in demanding accountability GENEVA (26 January 2023) – UN and African Union experts today condemned the killing of human rights defender and lawyer Thulani Maseko in Eswatini as “abhorrent” and demanded an impartial investigation into his death. “This is a tragedy. Thulani was an advocate for justice and human rights. His killing is a great loss and a massive blow to the human rights movement in Eswatini and beyond,” the experts said, echoing a statement condemning his killing by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk. Maseko was a member of Lawyers for Human Rights Swaziland and Chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum, a coalition calling for constitutional reform in Eswatini. He was shot dead at his home by unknown assailants on the night of 21 January 2023. His assassination occurred on the same day the King of Eswatini made a veiled threat against members of the country's pro-democracy movement. “Thulani’s tireless efforts for the protection of human rights, democracy and justice have left an indelible mark on the pro-democracy movement in Eswatini,” the experts said, “The tragic killing of such a prominent human rights defender and lawyer is an abhorrent act, which must be immediately and impartially investigated.” “Defending human rights is not a crime. Under no circumstances should activists or human rights defenders, working for a better, just world, be subject to intimidations, threats, violence, reprisals or killings”, the experts said. The experts expressed extreme concern that Thulani may have been directly targeted in retaliation for his work as a human rights lawyer and advocate for democracy. They urged the State to guarantee an effective, impartial and independent investigation into the killing and reiterated the High Commissioner's call for authorities to ensure the safety of all human rights defenders, civil society actors and lawyers in Eswatini. “We express our most sincere condolences and solidarity with Thulani's family, friends and colleagues and underline our determination to follow-up on the case to ensure justice and accountability,” the experts said. Throngs of human rights activists and politicians came to bid farewell to Thulani Maseko, Sunday (Jan. 29).
Gathered at the deceased home in western Eswatini, they paid him a last homage. The human rights lawyer was a leading figure in the push for Eswtini, an absolute monarchy, to transition into a multi-party democracy. “It is now up to us to make sure that the Freedom that comrade Thulani fought and died for is a reality in our lifetime,” Wandile Dludlu, the Secretary General of The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) urged.
“For the struggle we are fighting to continue, it will require sacrifice from the men and women. We may need to sacrifice our lives, our professions and everything we have.”
“The death of Thulani Maseko to us as the Swaziland youth congress is a sharp object to our hearts because Thulani Maseko is the person who introduced us to SWAYOCO, ( Swaziland Youth Congress). He is the person who introduced us to the Swazi struggle,” the president of SWAYOCO, Sakhile Nxumalo, lamented.
Calls for justice: Thulani Maseko was shot dead in his home last week, hours after a speech of defiance by the king against opponents of his absolute rule. Local and international groups called for an independent and effective investigation into the killing.
“The international community and all the people that are concerned must put pressure on King Mswati the 3rd,” Jabulani Dlamini, a political activist insisted.
52-year-old Thulani Maseko is survived by his wife, and 4 children.
At the time of his death, he was working as a lawyer for two people facing trial for offenses allegedly committed during the unrest in 2021, the U.N. said.
The country was engulfed in pro-democracy protests two years ago, when there were reports of state violence against demonstrators and King Mswati III was accused of repressing any opposition.
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May Thulani Maseko rest in peace, his memory be a blessing and deep condolences from AHRC to his beloved family, the human rights community and the good people of Eswatini.