One year after the assassination of human rights defender and lawyer Thulani Maseko, UN experts* expressed dismay about the failure to hold his killers to account and demanded an independent international investigation into his death.
“Investigations conducted into Thulani’s death have made no substantive progress over the course of an entire year. This is outrageous and creates a climate of impunity and a chilling effect on the human rights movement in Eswatini,” the experts said.
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 was a pillar of the human rights movement, working tirelessly for the protection of human rights, democracy and justice in the country,” the experts said. They remain concerned that Thulani may have been directly targeted in retaliation for his work as a human rights lawyer and advocate for democracy.
“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 intimidation, threats, violence, reprisals or killings,” the experts said.
“The lack of progress in the investigation into the tragic apparent targeted killing of such a prominent human rights defender and lawyer sends the message that the safety and protection of human rights defenders, civil society actors and lawyers is not guaranteed and not a priority for the State,” they said.
Concerned that the Eswatini authorities appear unwilling or unable to ensure adequate investigation, the UN experts call on the international community to use its leverage and available mechanisms to ensure that the responsible perpetrators are promptly brought to justice. “Thulani’s family and the human rights community in Eswatini have the right to know the truth,” they said.
The UN experts reiterated their call for an effective, impartial and independent investigation into Thulani’s killing, and for concrete measures to protect and ensure safety of all human rights defenders, civil society actors and lawyers in Eswatini.
The experts have contacted the Government of Eswatini regarding this issue.
*The experts: Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; and Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
The UN Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, Country Page – Eswatini
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).