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MHRC still investigating post-election cases

TARGETED — Some of the victims during Msundwe fracas

Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has said it has not yet concluded any investigation pertaining to human rights abuses in the aftermath of the May 21 Tripartite Elections due to, among others, understaffing.

MHRC Executive Secretary David Nungu told Malawi News said their technical staff is thin on the ground, overstretched and stressed.

Most of the human rights abuse cases under probe occurred during or immediately after demonstrations whose aim was to oust Justice Jane Ansah as Malawi Electoral Commission Chairperson.

Some of the MHRC investigations include probe to establish circumstances that led Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers to attack demonstrators in Karonga during the anti- Jane Ansah demonstrations in September.

About 10 MDF soldiers and over 20 civilians nursed injuries of different degrees in Karonga after the demonstrations reportedly turned violent.

MHRC preliminary findings indicated that the demonstrations went violent after some alleged protesters attacked MDF and Malawi Police Service (MPS) officers.

One of the protesters, Justin Phiri, died in police hands days after the scuffle.

The commission is also probing and documenting the violations associated with assaulting of Human Rights Defenders Coalition Central Region Chairperson Billy Mayaya during anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations held in September in Blantyre.

Recently, the commission also weighed in to probe alleged sexual assault and human rights abuses to women and girls of Msundwe Trading Centre and surrounding areas by suspected police officers.

Nungu said the cases under probe require sufficient skill, patience and assertiveness.

“We are yet to conclude. But we have made some good progress. We shall expedite the conclusion of these,” he said.

Nungu added that it is pleasing to note that they have received a generous offer for pro bono support from a group of lawyers.

“We hope to adequately make use of this offer in some cases, especially the ones associated with the violations at Msundwe. We would wish to appeal for more of such support.

“Besides staff limitations, we had some inordinate delays in funding some of the investigations in Karonga and Blantyre. Our request for funding to EU Chilungamo Programme to enable us to carry out these investigations has not yet been processed. However, it is again pleasing to report that Treasury has sufficiently funded us and we should be proceeding to finalise these cases,” he said.

Nungu said once investigations into high-profile cases such as the ones at hand are concluded, investigation reports need to be cleared by the commission through a decision made at a meeting of the commission.

“In view of the foregoing, to mitigate the challenge, we have ensured that we work closely with the ex-officio members of the commission, who have been very supportive, and also to ensure that our investigations are thorough such that their proceeds are accepted across the sector. We have made good progress on stakeholder management within the sector such that we enjoy credibility,” he said.

At the height of the Msundwe saga, MPS also instituted a commission of inquiry headed by Commissioner Aurene Baluwa to investigate circumstances surrounding the matter.

National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera Friday said investigations are progressing well emphasising that all police officers who would be found on the wrong side of the law will be disciplined.

“The commission of inquiry is doing its job as we are talking. We communicated that the commission will do the job with speed, integrity without bias so that we unearth what happened,” he said.

The developments come at a time when the commission is also operating with only two ex-officio commissioners as swearing on of new commissioners was impended as Centre for Development of People and Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation— challenged the appointments in court over flouts of appointment regulations by President Peter Mutharika.

Mutharika appointed law lecturer Sunduzwayo Madise, Ombudsman Martha Chizuma, journalist Baldwin Chiyamwaka, Reverend Cecilia Kotima, Stella Twea, Scader Louis and Boniface Massah as commissioners.

Mutharika is yet to correct the alleged irregularities eight months down the line because of the court process and the injunction sought by the civil society.

Last month, the state-funded human rights watchdog also complained of lack of resources to undertake critical assignments amid piling workload to investigate human rights abuses in the country.

MHRC said the organisation was operating on a K1.2 billion budget against required budget of K1.5 billion.

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