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UN condemns Malawi on torture

Blantyre Prison

Victor Mhango

The United Nations Committee Against Torture has condemned overcrowding in the country’s prisons and continued admissibility of confessions obtained under torture in the country’s courts.

The committee’s report on the State of Compliance with the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in a number of countries has found Malawi wanting on issues of overcrowding in prisons and admissibility of evidence obtained through torture.

“With regard to the severe prison overcrowding, reportedly exceeding 200 percent of the actual capacity, and poor material conditions, the committee called upon Malawi to guarantee that detention conditions fully comply with UN standards and to take all necessary legislative and other measures to reduce overcrowding in prisons, especially by making more use of alternatives to detention.

“The committee reproached Malawi for its failure to prohibit the admissibility of confessions obtained under torture and ill-treatment in its Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code. It urged Malawi to amend the relevant legislation and ensure that such confessions are systematically declared null and void. It also asked the State party to develop training modules for law enforcement officers on non-coercive interviewing and investigation techniques,” the report reads.

Overcrowding remains one of the biggest challenges prisoners face, years after the High Court sitting as a Constitutional Court ruled in 2009 in the Gable Masangano versus Attorney General, Minister of Homeland Security and Commissioner of Prisons case that government should reduce overcrowding by half in 18 months.

“In this case, we hold the view that packing inmates in an overcrowded cell with poor ventilation with little or no room to sit or lie down with dignity but to be arranged like sardines violates basic human dignity and amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment and [is] therefore unconstitutional.

“Accordingly, we direct the respondents to comply with this judgement within a period of 18 months [from Friday last week] by taking concrete steps in reducing prison overcrowding by half, thereafter periodically reducing the remainder to eliminate overcrowding and by improving the ventilation in prisons and, further, by improving prison conditions generally,” the judgement reads.

Meanwhile, Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance Executive Director Victor Mhango has concurred with contents of the report.

“Actually, overcrowding is now worse than during the time of the Masangano judgement. The quality of food is poorer than during the time of the judgement and, again, extracting confessions from suspects through torture is archaic because any form of torture is not acceptable anywhere in the world,” he said.

Minister of Homeland Security Jean Sendeza asked for more time before she could comment on the issue, saying she had not seen the report.

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