The assassination of Thulani Maseko, a leading human rights lawyer in Eswatini, requires immediate independent and impartial investigation and accountability, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today.
Maseko was shot dead in his living room on 21 January. The identity of the assailants is unknown.
“We at the ICJ mourn and condemn the brazen killing of Thulani Maseko, a courageous and principled advocate for justice in Eswatini and Africa, and a frequent partner and longstanding friend of the ICJ,” said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, ICJ’s Africa Director. “There must be accountability for this brutal killing, despite the prevalent impunity in Eswatini.”
Maseko was the chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum, a convergence of various stakeholders calling for constitutional reforms in Eswatini. Maseko’s shooting took place a few hours after King Mswati III publicly warned those calling for democracy that his “mercenaries” would deal with them. As a human rights defender and lawyer, Maseko worked to advance democracy, the rule of law, and good governance in Eswatini. During his career, he represented many human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists. He fought against the undermining of the independence of the Swazi judiciary, and restrictions on civic space. In 2014, he was convicted on contempt of court charges and sentenced to two years in prison. This followed the publication of opinion articles denouncing the lack of judicial independence.
“Thulani spent his life fighting for justice and has paid the ultimate price for his activism. He was a courageous human rights defender who advocated for democratic reform. ICJ is concerned that the killing of Thulani Maseko is a deliberate targeting and silencing of a lawyer and human rights defender in direct retaliation for his activism and his work as a lawyer,” Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh said.
ICJ calls on the Eswatini government to:
- Facilitate a prompt, independent, and impartial investigation into the circumstances of Maseko’s killing, in line with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
- Immediately end the persecution and attacks on pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders.
- Launch the much deliberated upon comprehensive and inclusive dialogue as a matter of urgency and priority, on terms facilitated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) towards national reconciliation, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and ultimately, lasting peace.
ICJ calls on SADC to:
- Set up an oversight mechanism to ensure an independent investigation into the killing of Maseko.
- Take steps to facilitate the multi-stakeholder dialogue it undertook to lead in 2022 between King Mswati and his government, opposition and civil society leaders, and other relevant stakeholders to urgently broker an end to the ongoing political crisis towards national reconciliation, respect for human rights, and the rule of law.
Since May 2021, there have been countrywide protests in Eswatini calling for political and democratic reforms. Government authorities have met these demands with unnecessary and excessive force against protesters, arbitrary arrests and detentions, shutting down of the internet, and bans on protests, resulting in deaths, injuries and thousands of instances of arbitrary detention. Currently, two Members of Parliament are incarcerated and face criminal prosecution under the Suppression of Terrorism and The Sedition and Subversive Activities Acts in relation to the protests.NewsPress releases