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Malawi taken to task on homosexuality

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Malawi on Tuesday presented its report on the status of human rights in the country to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group, which saw other countries urging it to decriminalise same sex relationships.

But responding to the queries and recommendations, Minister of Justice, Titus Mvalo, said homosexuality remained illegal in Malawi, adding that the Malawi Human Rights Commission would carry out a study to see whether it would be in order for Malawi to legalise it.

Contributing to deliberations on Malawi’s human rights report that Mvalo had presented earlier, a representative of Germany at the UPR session wanted to know if Malawian officials were considering reviewing laws that impede the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) individuals.

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“Considering that there have not been any sentences since 2012, does the new government consider reviewing laws that impede rights of LGBTI, for example, provisions criminalising consensual same-sex sexual conduct?

“What efforts does the government undertake to promote acceptance of LGBTI persons within society?” Germany’s representative asked.

Contributing to Malawi’s presentation, a representative of the United States (US) wanted to know if the Government of Malawi was protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms of LGBTI persons.

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“Will Malawi take steps to decriminalise LGBTI status and conduct?” quizzed the representative.

On its part, the United Kingdom (UK) quizzed Malawi on what steps the government was taking to end all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and to enact the Disability Bill of 2019 that incorporates into domestic law the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Other rights issues that attracted questions in Geneva Tuesday included that measures the Government of Malawi was taking to end sexual violence and exploitation of women and children.

During the session, the US said it was concerned with the level of violence against persons with albinism in Malawi.

“We note the recent convictions of several individuals for killing persons with albinism but many abduction and murder cases remain unsolved. What is the Government of Malawi doing to prevent violence against persons with albinism? What steps is the government taking to dispel myths that lead to the ritual use of body parts of persons with albinism?”

The US also asked the Government of Malawi to clarify on measures it was taking to enforce legal prohibitions on gender-based violence, discrimination, and abusive practices, including initiation rituals in which adult men have sexual relations with girls.

The UK also demanded to know when the Government of Malawi would abolish the death penalty and ensure that all persons awaiting the death sentence have their sentences commuted, in accordance with the policy outlined in Malawi’s UPR.

“What steps is the Government of Malawi taking to investigate allegations of rape and sexual abuse of women by Malawi Police Service [personnel] during protests on 28 October 2019, and hold accountable anyone found to be responsible?” asked the UK.

In an interview after the presentation, Mvalo said the Tonse Administration was committed to ensuring that victims of Msundwe sexual abuse accessed justice, adding that police should be an instrument of protecting people and not inflicting terror.

On death penalty, Mvalo said there had been a moratorium on the death penalty since 1994, adding that the Tonse Administration intended to proceed with that moratorium.

Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation acting Executive Director, Michael Kaiyatsa, said, after Mvalo has made the submission, the UPR Working Group would present recommendations to Malawi which the Malawi Government must accept, reject or take note of.

He said, according to the calendar, a preliminary report of recommendations will be presented to Malawi by November 6 and that Malawi would have to respond to it by November 20.

Kaiyatsa noted that there were some recommendations which kept resurfacing, meaning that UN member states were concerned with the lack of action on some of the concerns.

He added that there was need for authorities to fast-track the Msundwe case which, he said, had attracted international attention.

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