Govt tipped on safeguarding rights of people in Malawi this year

Refugees in Malawi

Refugees at a detention centre in Malawi after they were kicked out of their homes in 2023

While describing 2023 as a year which was dominated by violation of constitutional rights, several experts have tipped the Malawi government on how it should avoid recurrence of such irregularities this year.

In an interview with this publication, human rights lawyer Alexious Kamangila, described the year 2023 as the worst on human rights protection, claiming it was marred with serious violation of people’s rights by the government of Malawi.

Kamangila who is also a law lecture at the University of Malawi, mentioned the relocation exercise of refuges and asylum seekers back to Dzaleka refugee camp in Dowa district and the arresting of people who criticized the government as some of the true examples of constitutional rights violation.

“It was largely a bad year in Malawi. The Government of Malawi blatantly violated Constitutional rights in relation to Immigrants/Refugees as well as Malawians and Investors in this country. The conduct of Government in the exercise termed Relocation Exercise was an exercise marred with Theft, Unlawful arrests and detentions, Unlawful deportations, Judiciary’s passiveness and inaction in the face of clear human rights violations and arbitrary and Unlawful revocation of Citizenship and Business permits.

“Apart from Refugees, the Government has consistently continued to close the Civic space through appointing key players in the Civil Space into positions which comprises their independence. Finally, arbitrary arrests continue to be used by this Government to silence opposing views, highlighted in Bon Kalindo’s ridiculous arrests,” said Kamangila.

Despite that, Kamangila commended authorities in regard to the passing of the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2023 saying coupled with an adoption of the African Optional Protocol on Disability, the act provides a very good legal framework on which action can be taken to prove the welfare of persons with disabilities.

The rights expert was, however, so quick to point out that the country continues to fall into an abyss as regards to persons with mental disabilities, claiming the Persons with Disabilities Act 2023 fail to expressly recognize Universal Legal capacity for persons with disabilities which is at the heart of all the other rights’ enjoyment and remedy seeking and enforceability where such rights as provided by the Act have been violated. This, he says, has the potential to render the rights provided in the 2023 Act, castles in the air.

Kamangila who is also a Reprieve Fellow, further encouraged authorities to always put at heart rights of the vulnerable groups and added that government authorities should also avoid recurrence of human rights violation which happened in the country in 2023.

“The President of Malawi Dr Lazarus Chakwera and anyone with Power held on behalf of the people of Malawi should read Section 12 of the Constitution and follow it to the letter.

“Civilization of a nation is measured or should be measured by how it treats the most vulnerable population and so there is no excuse to treat Refugees/Immigrants the way we did in 2023. Similarly, failure to feed inmates when we have detained them as a nation is heinous to say the least. We have to immediately stop victimizing these vulnerable groups who were at the highest receiving end of Governments acts or passiveness which deprived the two groups enjoyment of their Constitutionally guarantee rights,” he added.

Concurrently, Executive Director for the Centre for Human Rights Education and Advice Assistance (CHREA), Victor Mhango, faulted authorities for failing to enact the new prison act and says this is retrogressive in promoting rights of the prisoners.

He also expressed concern with the scarcity of food in prisons which he said was as a result of lack of funding, a development he said saw prisoners going for days without taking food. He has since encouraged authorities to look into and address the matter to avoid its recurrence this year.

“That is a setback because the act that we are using now was enacted in 1956 and we thought that by now the government will actually speed up processing the new one and actually, just to mention that we also have some key clause in our penal codes that also need to be revisited.

“We are hoping that in the year 2024, especially the first quarter, before the end of the financial year, members of parliament are going to discuss the prison bill and pass it into a law because this is what the president promised during the last year’s SONA and also the issues of food scarcity in prisons should be addressed. We are hoping that government will actually improve when it comes to the funding for the prison department.

“It is important to safeguard the rights of any other person, regardless of the status. So we are hoping that the duty bearers, the government, are going to make sure that every citizen is enjoying the rights as accorded in the constitution of Malawi,” said Mhango.