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Malawi government sticks to death penalty

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Malawi government put its foot down at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 30th Session in Geneva on Thursday by rejecting recommendations to abolish death penalty as well as allowing for the acceptance of same-sex relationships.

This did not, however, stop the Council from adopting Malawi’s position following the Universal Periodic Review on its human rights.

Addressing the Council, Solicitor General and Secretary for Justice, Janet Banda, who stood in for Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Samuel Tembenu, conceded that recommendations that have not enjoyed government’s support are to do with death penalty and same-sex relationships.

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“You will recall that during the review of Malawi’s Second Cycle report in May 2015, Malawi received 199 recommendations. Malawi supported 145. We pended 13 recommendations to this session and we have since accepted nine and rejected four of the pended 13 recommendations. In total, therefore, Malawi has accepted a total of 154 recommendations,” she said.

Banda, however, told the Council that Malawi imposed a moratorium on death penalty in 1994 and that in 2006, the government attempted to eliminate the death penalty from the statutes.

“That attempt was thwarted by the general public at a national constitutional conference but despite that setback, government has intensified its efforts to eliminate the death penalty by reintroducing the resentencing of prisoners convicted and sentenced to death prior to 1994,” she said.

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Banda, who was speaking when Malawi came under spotlight after recommendations for Belarus- United States of America-were also adopted, said this process is ongoing and it shows a commitment on the part of government to strike a compromise in this very important area.

She said the other issue where they received a lot of recommendations is in the area of same-sex relationships.

“This is an area that is still under discussions as we indicated during the review in May. Government is encouraging free debate and has also invited, through a press briefing, civil society organisations to work with government to educate the rural masses, especially the grassroots on the importance of sexual minority rights so that we generate or cultivate a culture of acceptance in the country,” explained Banda.

She said in deciding which recommendations to support, the government and the people of Malawi were guided by the country’s constitutional values and ideals, national priorities as reflected in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II (MGDSII) and various sectoral policies.

“The supported recommendations, therefore, speak to aspirations of the people of Malawi. We were mindful that this review and interactive dialogue will continue with the submission of our midterm report in 2017, as well as our next cycle report in 2019,” she said.

Banda said Malawi is keen to ensure that the supposed recommendations are implemented and since the review in May, Malawi has already taken steps towards implementation of the recommendations.

“Firstly, the National Task Force on UPR met in July to start the process of dissemination of the recommendations.

“Secondly, we are using the recommendations as the benchmarks for the development of the National Human Rights Action Plan 2016-2020, a process being led by Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs,” she said.

Although CSOs that are attending the reviews took a strong stance against Malawi, member states supported Malawi.

Taking her turn, Malawi Human Rights Commission Executive Secretary, Grace Malera, who despite welcoming the considerations by government still expressed regret on government’s failure to support recommendations relating to the ratification of the convention of the migrant workers and on the decriminalisation of defamation laws.

“The Commission will continue to engage government on these issues,” she said.

Except for the observers, when the member states took turn to speak on Malawi’s government consideration to the recommendations, they all hailed Malawi and asked the council to adopt it.

These countries included Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Ireland, Lesotho, Libya, Norway, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Togo, Venezuela, Angola, Benin, Botswana, and China.

However, local and international civil society organisations did not take kindly to government ’s decision to leave out the other recommendations and this prompted them to even raise more challenges that the country is facing.

Action Canada asked Malawi to reconsider criminalising spousal rape and female genital mutilation which it did not take on board.

On the other hand, Amnesty International asked government to repeal criminalisation of consensual same-sex relationship, abolish the death penalty as well as ensure that the Malawi Police Service should be able to start obeying the 48-hour-rule, within which it should bring suspects to court, which it is failing to uphold.

On the sexual minority rights, Gift Trapence of the Centre for the Development of the People (Cedep) addressed the council through a joint statement with International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the International Lesbian and Gay Association which stated that LGBTI people in Malawi suffer from continuous and compound human rights violations.

“In 2014, 76 cases of human rights violations ranging from assault, dismissal from employment, arbitrary arrests and denial to access health care services were documented and by July 2015 another 46 cases have been added to this number,” he said.

“We, therefore, urge the government to amend all discriminatory clauses in its legislation and to continue the push for the recognition of the human rights of all citizens of Malawi and to address issues of violence and discrimination against LGBTI people,” he said.

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