UN condemns murder of human rights lawyer in Esuatini and calls for «independent» investigation

Archive – United Nations flag at UN Headquarters in New York City – YORICK JANSENS / ZUMA PRESS / CONTACTOPHOTO

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, on Monday condemned the murder of human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, who was shot at his home on Saturday, and called on the authorities to conduct an «independent» and «impartial» investigation to shed light on the incident.

«Thulani Maseko was a human rights defender who, at great risk, spoke out for many who cannot. I offer my sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. His cold-blooded murder deprives Esuatini, southern Africa and the world of a true defender of peace, democracy and human rights,» he said.

He called on the authorities «to ensure a prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigation into the murder, in line with Esuatini’s constitution and international law, and to ensure that all those responsible are held accountable in fair trials.

«The Esuatini authorities must also ensure the safety and security of the entire population, including human rights defenders, journalists and activists, as well as protect civic space,» Turk reiterated.

Amnesty International’s secretary general, Agnès Callamard, joined in the condemnations, saying she was «saddened and angry» by Maseko’s murder. «There are many people who will seek justice for you and who will carry on your legacy,» she said on her Twitter account.

«The murder of Thulani Maseko is tragic. He was a prisoner of conscience, he was an outstanding Human Rights lawyer, a pillar in the struggle for democracy in Esuatini and a wonderful Amnesty colleague. We are devastated,» he said.

Callamard further stressed that the NGO «has documented the increasingly sinister tactics of the authorities, acting against and silencing opponents and activists.» «We will do everything we can until justice is done for Thulani’s murder. Those who killed and ordered his murder must be held accountable,» he said.

For its part, the government has denounced that Maseko «was brutally shot and killed by unknown criminals» and expressed its condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. «Maseko’s death is a loss to the nation and his traces as a human rights lawyer are proof of his contribution to the country,» it said.

Esuatini government spokesman Alpheous Nxumalu said in a statement that the authorities «are already working to find the killers» and assured that «they will not rest until they are arrested.» «We ask the nation to alert the police if they have information that can help arrest these criminals,» he added.

«The government again takes the opportunity to condemn the ruthless killing of civilians,» he has said, while warning against «speculations and insinuations whipped up particularly on social networks» against the authorities.

«The government dissociates itself from these heinous acts. These speculations are dangerous as they damage investigations and draw attention away from the real criminals. The Government asks the nation to stand with Maseko’s family and pray during this sad period,» he reiterated.

Maseko was president of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum, an association that brought together various civil society organizations, businesses, trade unions, political parties, religious groups and women’s organizations that advocate for a peaceful transition and multi-party democracy in the African country. The lawyer was now the legal representative of two parliamentarians who are on trial in connection with their role in the pro-democracy mobilizations of 2021.

Esuatini, a country of about 1.3 million people known as Swaziland until 2018, has been ruled as an absolute monarchy by Mswati III since 1986. The monarch controls parliament and appoints ministers, which has led to criticism of his monopoly on power.