High Court judge Kenyatta Nyirenda has ordered that police officers who sexually assaulted and raped 18 women and girls at Mpingu and M’bwatalika in Lilongwe West should be arrested within 30 days from yesterday when he delivered his judgement in a judicial review case championed by the Women Lawyers Association.
Nyirenda faulted the Malawi Police Service (MPS)— represented in the case by Principal State Advocate Neverson Chisiza—for failing to undertake a number of assignments including producing a report of its investigations into the sexual assault allegations and arresting the perpetrators.
Parliament, appearing in the case as the second responded through its Clerk, has also been criticised for failing to operationalise an Independent Complaints Commission as stipulated in the Police Act.
The judge also damned MPS for failing to put in place a credible system of monitoring the conduct of its officers and failing to arrest the cops who were perpetrators of sexual violence and rape against the 18 girls and women.
In directing that the victims should be compensated, Nyirenda has dismissed MPS’s argument that the whole matter should be concluded first to determine if the women were indeed assaulted.
The judge has further said the investigations by MPS would not really serve the purpose of proving that the women and girls were sexually assaulted as such investigations were already done by the Malawi Human Rights Commission.
“The further investigations prayed by the applicants will serve the purpose of identifying the actual perpetrators of the sexual assaults among the police officers that were sent to work in the areas of Mpingu and M’bwatalika,” Nyirenda said.
The judge also reminded MPS that the matter went to court as a judicial review case because the applicants had no other remedy left.
“[MPS] has the sole authority to investigate and arrest the perpetrators of the sexual violence against the women and girls in M’bwatalika and Mpingu.
“This, therefore, leaves the applicants with no remedy but recourse to this court where the Malawi Police Service has failed to take concrete steps to investigate and arrest the perpetrators,” he said in the judgement.
The court has meanwhile directed that the Registrar of the High Court Agnes Patemba should within 21 days assess the compensation that should be paid to the 18 women and girls.
According to the judgment, costs of the proceedings are to be borne by the respondents.
Reacting to the judgment, WLA president Tadala Chinkwezule said she was happy that justice has been realised for the sexually abused women and girls.
“Finally, after 10 months and lengthy litigation, justice for the women and girls of Msundwe has arrived. Justice, as they say, has to be seen to be done and this judgment embodies that aspect. This is a precedent set in the human rights arena, not only in Malawi, but Africa and the world over,” Chinkwezule said.
She added that the fact is that where there is injustice occasioned by police officers, they will be held accountable.
Chinkwezule also said the order of compensation is timely as the women and girls’ livelihoods were adversely affected after “the unfortunate incidents”.
She also paid tribute to WLA members that undertook the case, led by Hilda Soko, and Wezi Malonda who conducted research, drafted the case and provided general guidance.
Chairperson of the NGO Gender Coordinating Network, Barbara Banda, also said it was a great day for Malawi women and girls, especially those who were sexually abused.
“The judgment shows that we can have confidence in the courts when we have taken our issues to them,” Banda said.
WLA sued the government of Malawi seeking redress and accountability for the violation of the rights of the 18 women and girls by the police officers.
It all started in October 8 last year, when former president Peter Mutharika addressed a public rally at Kamuzu Institute for Sports in Lilongwe City. Some youths protested against the meeting by setting up roadblocks along the Lilongwe-Mchinji Road.
Usumani Imedi, who was among police officers deployed to quell the situation, was stoned to death by the mob. Apparently, in retaliation to the death, his colleagues invaded M’bwatalika and Mpingu where they sexually assaulted the 18 women and girls.