Speech delivered at the Committee of Human Rights, Geneva

posted  Monday, June 09, 2014

Submission to the 111st Session of African Human Rights Committee

Submitted and Presented by:

Timothy Pagonachi Mtambo

Executive Director

Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation

P.O. Box 2340

Lilongwe, Malawi

Tel: +265 (1) 761 122

Email: chrr@chrrmw.org

Website: www.chrrmw.org


Submission to the 111st Session of African Human Rights Committee

                                      Geneva-JULY, 2014


Your Excellency Madam Chair, distinguished Commissioners, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) in partnership with Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRC) Centre for Development of People (Cedep) Paralegal Advisory Services Institute (PASI) Youth Consultative Forum (YCF) Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi, Church and Society Nkhoma Synod of Church of Central African Presbyterian, I feel humbled to stand before you once more to present a shadow Human Rights Report on Malawi to the Human Rights Committee. I don’t take this opportunity for granted.

Madam chair and all distinguished members here present, be informed that Malawi has now clocked 50 years of independence and 20 years of multiparty democracy dispensation. It even feels more fulfilling that the half-a-century mark is reached with peace and unity still prevailing despite various development challenges. At 50, Malawi can count some progress made, however modest. Most significantly, the country now has a progressive Constitution which has the whole chapter IV on the Bill of Rights. Malawi has also gone a step further to establish constitutional bodies such as the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), the Ombudsman, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), the Law Commission, the Anti-Corruption Bureau ACB--- just to mention but a few---with a view to safeguarding the laws of the land.

Madam chair, despite the establishment of these constitutional bodies, the State still has a hand in the operations of some of these institutions.  Specifically, the ACB and DPP are always at the disposal of the ruling party to silence critical voices or settle scores with some citizens suspected to have indulged in corruption or fraud. There is no attempt at all by the two institutions to institute investigations or commence criminal proceedings against those connected to a ruling party despite overwhelming incriminating evidence against them till the party they worship is out of power.

Madam chair, this is also the case with Malawi’s Commissions of Inquiry. Recently, Malawi has had so many inquires especially the Chasowa Murder, the July 20/11 killings yet nothing is being done to date. The country is yet to know the culprits.  Last year, in September, the country lost over K13 billion kwacha to cash-gate and the report on the same is now with government but the truth is that Malawians don’t know the truth up to now.  The practice has unfortunately bled a culture of impunity while eroding citizens’ trust in some of the country’s constitutional bodies.

Madam chair, I will be failing in speech if I simply gloss over a democratic event that took place in Malawi some less than two months ago. While the dust has since settled and everyone has accepted the results, the tripartite elections themselves have offered us some lessons which have a bearing on our fledging democracy. We have, for instance, learnt that the current fast-past-the-post system (FPTP0---in which a person with a single vote more than the rest forms government---is not in tandem with the majority rule of democracy. The system has the potential of producing a president elected by the minority. In fact, for the past five presidential elections, no Malawians president---except in 2009---has been elected by more than 50 percent of the total valid votes.  I hereby argue that for the sake of genuine majority, the country must dump the FTPT in favour of the 50 +1 electoral system as recommended by stakeholders during the 2007 constitutional review conference. 

Madam chair, allow me to turn the country’s laws and their enforcement. Madam chair, Malawi is very good at enacting bills which serve the best interest of the citizens. Recently, the country has passed the Disability Act and the Gender Equality Act and Child Care, Justice, Protection Act aimed at advancing the needs of the disabled and women, respectively. The perennial challenge has been, however, the implementation of most of the acts passed in parliament.  The practice shows that the process stops at having the bills passed. Little effort—if any—is invested in citizen awareness of the laws passed in parliament. Resultantly, citizens, especially women, children and the disabled still remain vulnerable various forms of human rights violations. Government should consider engaging the citizens soon after the bill is passed to raise awareness of the act. Of equally major concern are the pathetic conditions in the country’s prisons. There are approximately about 12,000 inmates in the prisons. Overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, substandard sanitation, poor health facilities, and inadequate infrastructure remain serious problems. Prisons and detention centres, while generally well ventilated, have no provisions for temperature control other than wood fires. Authorities hold most homicide suspects in pretrial detention for two to three years, but some homicide detainees remain in prison awaiting trial for much longer periods. Further Pretrial detainees are not held separately from convicted prisoners.

Madam chair, allow me to make the following general recommendations to the government of Malawi on issues contained in the shadow report. Looking into the future I urge government to:

To take laws being passed in parliament to the people of Malawi especially in rural areas to raise awareness on the same.
The state must expeditiously prosecute those involved in the July 20, 2011killings, and sanction those responsible according to law and provide adequate reparations to families and victims.
Take serious measures aimed at bringing to book all cash-gate culprits including those connected to government.
Take necessary measures to improve prison conditions according those on pre-trial justice enjoy their human rights guaranteed in the Constitution.
Review the laws on abortion and ensure that they are liberalized. The current legal frame-work on abortion is not progressive contributes to loss of lives through unsafe abortions.
Abolish the death penalty and strike it off from the country’s laws.
Amend the penal code to criminalise sexual abuse of children regardless the sex of the child
Finalise the enactment of laws that protect children against child labour like Tenancy Bill and enforce already existing legislation such as the Employment Act that prohibits the employment of anyone below the age of 14 years of age

Madam chair, in conclusion, I would like thank all partners namely; Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRC) Centre for Development of People (Cedep) Paralegal Advisory Services Institute (PASI) Youth Consultative Forum (YCF) Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi, Church and Society Nkhoma Synod of Church of Central African Presbyterian for playing a big role in coming up with the report I will be submitting in due course. Lastly, I urge the new government to rise above pettiness and deal with the issues raised in the shadow report without fear or favour.

I thank you for your kind and undivided attention: May the heavens shower Africa with endless blessings of freedom, peace, love, development and justice.

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