Five civil society activists have threatened to sue President Peter Mutharika for failing to include more women in the newly appointed Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) announced last Tuesday, saying he has contravened the laws of the country.
The activists have since asked the President to stop the swearing in of new commissioners until he investigate the appointment process and find out why only one woman was appointed as a commissioner.
“Your Excellency you may note that we have opted to engage you and your good office on this matter even if we had an opportunity to go to court under section 12 of the Gender Equality Act. We, therefore, hope and pray that you will act on this in line with spirit of promoting women’s rights,” reads the letter in part which was handed to the Office of President and Cabinet.
“Your Excellency, appointing only one woman in a team of seven commissioners is clear violation of fundamental human rights and Malawi laws on gender equality,” reads the letter.
The NGOs include NGO Gender Coordinating Network (NGO GCN ) which represents 53 non-governmental organisations, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of the People (Cedep).
Health rights activist Martha Kwataine and human rights defender Billy Mayaya are also part of the action.
Cedep Executive director, Gift Trapence said in a separate interview that they have already consulted legal minds and have been assured that they have solid grounds to seek an injunction once President Mutharika fails to take heed to their calls.
The letter says as NGOs they have realised that the appointment of commissioners is governed by Section 4 of the Human Rights Commission Act and that under this section the Law Commissioner and Ombudsman have an obligation to ask organisations working on promotion and protection of human rights to make nominations.
They argue that Section 4(2) and (3) of the same Human Rights Commission Act says the Law Commission and Ombudsman will review the names and recommend names for appointment to the President.
“At the same time we note that section 11(1) of Gender Equality obligates appointing authority to make sure one sex is not represented more than 60 percent in the appointed team.
“Therefore, we submit that the Law Commission and Ombudsman were supposed to note this before giving you the list for appointment. In the alternative we would appreciate to learn if this matter was brought to your attention and whether the Law Commission and Ombudsman offered any explanation,” the activists say.
The letter also notes that by appointing only one woman commissioner in the Human Rights Commission, Section 11 of the Gender Equality has been violated.
State House Press Secretary, Gerald Viola, has since condemned the manner in which the CSOs have approached the issue insisting that governance cannot be achieved through the courts.
Viola said the President has not seen the letter because at the time that it was being delivered he was busy with the swearing in of newly appointed cabinet ministers.
He said the position of the President can only be known after he has seen the letter and appreciate the grounds of the petition.
“There will be a better channel of addressing them. Governance cannot be based on court rulings and at the same sometime the President is empowered by Section 49 of the Constitution to appoint who he deems fit and necessary to be in boards or whatever capacity that person will be appointed into,” he said.
Viola said the President preaches contact and dialogue when there are misunderstandings and according to him going through third party as the CSOs have done can only worsen the situation.
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