Swaziland (Eswatini)

Eswatini: Killing of prominent human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko

January 23, 2023

“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 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Immediately end the violent rhetoric against pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders.
  5. Immediately allow for an inclusive and genuine political dialogue to usher in a democratic dispensation in Eswatini.

We call on SADC to:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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


  1. Ditshwanelo – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights
  2. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  3. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  4. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
  5. Front Line Defenders
  6. Panos Institute Southern Africa
  7. Center for Democracy and Development (CDD)
  8. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
  9. Centre for Human Rights
  10. Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)
  11. Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network (RMDDH)
  12. University of Pretoria
  13. Zimbabwe Human Rights Association
  14. Observatoire des droits de l’Homme au Rwanda – ODHR
  15. Seinoli Legal Centre – Lesotho
  16. Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
  17. SADC-Lawyers Association (SADCLA)
  18. The National Association of Democratic Lawyers
  19. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition
  20. Plataforma da Sociedade Civil em Manica (PLASOC)
  21. Associação Socorro de Moçambique (SOCORRO)
  22. Faith and Hope Association
  23. Associação Moçambicana Sou Jovem
  24. Associação para o Desenvolvimento Comunitário
  25. Associação MW-Chimoio
  26. Associação Moçambicana de Mulheres com Deficiência
  27. Associação Dos Direitos Da Vida Humana
  28. Silver Lining Moçambique
  29. Tearfund
  30. Associação ADCEM
  31. Missão Cristã para Desenvolvimento Rural
  32. Rede Comunitária
  33. Associação AkA Power
  34. Botswana Council of Non-Govermental Organizations (BOCONGO)
  35. Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET)
  36. Human Rights Defenders Coalition – Malawi
  37. Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe
  38. Freedom House
  39. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
  40. Regional Watch for Human Rights
  41. Southern Africa People Solidarity Network (SAPSN)
  42. Letsema Centre for Development and Democracy
  43. Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka
  44. Kenya Human Rights Commission
  46. Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI)
  47. Zimbabwe Human Rights Associate
  48. Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits Humains
  49. Zambia Council for Social Development
  50. Yetu Infotech Collective
  51. Defenders Coalition
  52. Réseau Nigerien des Défenseurs des Droits Humains
  53. Mqanduli community advice office
  54. Centro de Estudos Moçambicanos e Internacionais (CEMO)
  55. Raise the Young Foundation
  57. Swaziland Concerned Church Leaders
  58. Centre for Women Human Rights Defenders in Africa
  59. Southern Africa Women Human Rights Defenders
  60. Political Prisoners in Africa
  61. Civic Space Network
  62. African Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders
  63. Civic Space Network
  64. Chapter One Foundation
  65. Gun Free SA
  66. Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement South Africa
  67. West African Human Rights Defenders’ Network
  68. KwaZulu-Natal Monitor
  69. Zimrights
  70. The Good Samaritan Association
  71. LDDH Djibouti
  72. The Public Interest Practice
  73. Integrity Magazine News
  74. Center for Artists’ Human Rights in Southern Africa
  75. La Via Campesina Southern and Eastern Africa
  76. Swaziland Concerned Church Leaders
  77. Zambia Human Rights Defenders Network (ZHRDN)
  78. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
  79. Swaziland Rural Women’s Assembly
  80. International Labour, Research and Information Group (ILRIG)
  81. Khulumani Support Group
  82. International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) CSO National Chapter
  83. Green Governance Zimbabwe Trust
  84. Botswana Watch Organization
  85. International Commission of Jurists
  86. Network of the independent Commission for Human rights in North Africa CIDH AFRICA
  87. Free Press Initiative Zambia
  88. Lumiere Synergie pour le Developpement
  89. Civic Commission for Africa (CCFA)
  90. Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice
  91. Open Society- Africa
  92. Gender Centre for Empowering Development (GenCED)
  93. Action for Civic Participation
  94. Zambia Social Forum (ZAMSOF)
  95. Fórum Nacional de Rádios Comunitárias (FORCOM)
  96. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network
  97. Lawyers for Human Rights
  98. Kanye Independent Living Centre (KILC)
  99. Jamaa Resource Initiatives
  100. Protection International Africa
  101. Partenariat pour la Protection Integree-PPI/DRC
  102. Observatoire des droits de l’homme au Rwanda ( ODHR)
  103. Chitungwiza Residents Trust
  104. Vostile Creatives Trust
  105. Jersey Farm Advice and Information Centre
  106. Associação Comunitária Matsatsi
  107. ActionAid South Africa
  108. Transnational Institute (TNI)
  109. Permanent Peoples Tribunal
  110. Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC)
  111. Associação de Assistência Psicológica à Comunidade
  112. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders
  113. The Peace Centre
  114. Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD)
  115. Centre for Artists’ Human Rights in Southern Africa
  116. REMAC
  117. Haki Africa
  118. AntiRepression Collective

Endorsed by the following individuals:

  1. Arnold Tsunga
  2. Prof. Adriano Nuvunga
  3. Lucia da Silveira
  4. Tiseke Kasambala
  5. Alice Mogwe
  6. Prof. Sishuwa Sishuwa
  7. Roshnee Narrandes
  8. Washington Katema
  9. Simphiwe Sidu
  10. Meamande Wamukwamba
  11. Constance Mukarati
  12. Jacob van Garderen
  13. Charles Chimedza
  14. Laswet Savadye
  15. Bongani Ngwenya
  16. Sheila Nhancale
  17. Laura Rwambiwa
  18. Keiso Mohloboli
  19. Zakaria Abdillahi
  20. Tatenda Mazarura
  21. Makanaka Makonese
  22. Tankiso Motipi
  23. Roselyn Hanzi
  24. Blessing Gorejena
  25. Lloyd Kuveya
  26. Norman Lala Tjombe
  27. Vusumuzi Sifile
  28. Fidelis Mudimu
  29. Mark Heywood
  30. Faith Munyati
  31. Mpangi Kwenge
  32. Martin Masiga
  33. Munjodzi Muatandiri
  34. Thulani Mswelanto
  35. Muzi Masuku
  36. Lepeli Moeketsi
  37. Siphosami Malunga
  38. Kumbirai Mafunda
  39. Justice Alfred Mavedzenge
  40. Maxwell Nkambule
  41. Busisiwe Zasekhaya
  42. Nomathamsanqa Masiko-Mpaka
  43. Ashwanee Budoo-Scholts
  44. João Nhampossa
  45. Francisco Rafael Gale
  46. Micaela Bungueia
  47. Henriques Henriques
  48. Assimone Bonifácio
  49. Menezes Lino
  50. Georgina Nicolau Cauzande
  51. Beatriz Augusta Roque Remane
  52. Danilo Mairoce
  53. Pedro Tawanda
  54. Rângel António
  55. Belita José Ernesto Njirazafa
  56. Felisberto Andreque
  57. Afonso Costina
  58. Dealton de Araujo
  59. Raúl Maharate
  60. Baltazar José Fazenda
  61. Edgar Jone
  62. Antonio Muredzere
  63. Líria de Araújo
  64. Julia Wachave
  65. Isabel Próstamo
  66. Otto Saki
  67. Aly Caetano
  68. Albertina Armando
  69. Mitilage Nantica
  70. Félix Fernando chinanga
  71. Isabel Matos
  72. Boniface Cheembe
  73. Janet Zhou
  74. Godinho Cristóvão
  75. Whitney Mulobela
  76. Leah Diana Mitaba
  77. Sinah Teemane
  78. Mary Pais Da Silva
  79. Nikiwe Kaunda
  80. Annah Moyo
  81. Andrew Matayataya
  82. Vusumuzi Sifile
  83. Dr. Musa Kika
  84. Bennitto Motitswe
  85. Anschaire Nikoyagize
  86. Davis Malombe
  87. Munyaradzi Tsunga
  88. Tawanda Mugari
  89. Me Zakaria
  90. Munyandilikirwa Laurent
  91. Barrister Tola Thompson Adebayor
  92. Monametsi Sokwe
  93. Joan Chirwa
  94. Stanley Nyamanhindi
  95. Ghalib Galant
  96. Danilo Mairoce
  97. Barrister Mayomi Afekuiah
  98. Ferosa Chaúque
  99. Dra. Sheila
  100. NAJi Moulay lahsen
  101. Esther Tawiah
  102. Alice Kuveya
  103. Rângel António
  104. Thapelo Mohapi
  105. Linda Kasonde
  106. Henriques Henriques
  107. Wayne Ncube
  108. Omardine Zacarias Omar
  109. Jone Arão Bambamba
  110. Maungo T Mooki
  111. Malven Daka
  112. Olive Moore
  113. Creva Pereira Gama
  114. Wilbert Mandinde
  115. Onkabetse Ketshabile
  116. James Bidal Asu
  117. Barrister Mayomi Afekuiah
  118. Gershom Kabaso Jr
  119. Thabo Masuku
  120. Mark Weinberg
  121. Obino Nyambane
  122. Dale McKinley
  123. Brian Ashley
  124. SHARIFF Bonnie Florencia
  125. Elpídeo FA Mutemba
  126. Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh
  127. Nyeoe Ntene
  128. Thozama Dyantyi
  129. Sifiso Dladla
  130. André Catueira
  131. Hassan Shire
  132. Líria de Araújo
  133. Jacob van Garderen
  134. Nzira Razao
  135. Gianni Tognoni, Secretary General
  136. Dzikamai Bere
  137. Susan Muriungi
  138. Maria Antônia Domingos Campira
  139. Mary de Haas
  140. Hussein Khalid
  141. Marjorie Jobson
  142. Yona Wanjala
  143. Fiona Dove
  144. Brid Brennan
  145. Mesud Gebeyehu Reta
  146. Melanie SONHAYE KOMBATE
  147. Nada Awad
  148. Bonsile Mamba- National Chairperson
  149. José Ivo Correia
  150. Yankuba Keita
  151. Frank Mpahlo
  152. Gift Trapence.
  153. KANNI Abdoulaye
  154. Robert R. Kirenga
  155. Pascal Mupenda
  156. S Nyembe
  157. Robert Letsatsi
  158. Elisa Comé
  159. Kelly Gillespie
  160. Dr Justice Mavedzenge