For the first time in the history of Malawi, a United States of America official responsible for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and inter-sex issues has included Malawi on the list of countries he is scheduled to visit between January 17 and 27 this year.
In a statement released on January 15, the US Department of State spokesperson says, “Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry will travel January 17-27 to Malawi, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa”.
Reads part of the statement: “During his travels, Special Envoy Berry will participate in meetings with government officials, civil society representatives and members of business, academic, and faith-based communities.”
The development comes after the Malawi government was in December 2015 forced to reverse its decision to arrest Lilongwe-based 19-year-old Cuthbert Kulemera and 33-year-old Kelvin Gonani, who were detained for allegedly indulging in homosexual acts.
In a statement released on December 18, the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs announced the imposition of a moratorium on arrests and prosecution of homosexuals.
“Malawi as a member of the international community is also committed to adhere [sic] to universally accepted human rights standards. The government, therefore, acknowledges the view expressed by international human rights bodies that the inclusion of offences prohibiting homosexuality on our statute books within our legislation may be at variance with the views held by such bodies,” read part of the statement signed by Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu.
The statement added: “Further, in line with this commitment, government has imposed a moratorium on arrests and prosecution of consensual homosexual acts. Government has also consistently invited civil society to carry out intensive sensitisation campaigns on gay rights, as the concept is alien to Malawian culture, since the previous two attempts to change the law met with [sic] stiff resistance from the general public.”
The arrest of Kulemera and Gonani opened a can of worms for the government. For example, Unites States Ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer said in a statement released recently that, “I remind the government of its stated policy not to arrest, detain, charge, or pursue people engaged in consensual same-sex activity. The rights of LGBTI [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans-gender, Inter-sex] persons are human rights. As a matter of human rights, public health, and public order, LGBTI persons should not be discriminated against in any way,” said Palmer in the statement.
Not to be outdone, German Ambassador to Malawi, Peter Woeste, expressed his displeasure at Malawians’ comments against homosexuals on social media.
In a statement released in December, the German envoy said: “…I am deeply disturbed by ill-mannered reactions I am reading on the social media, especially [because] those who defend LGBTI rights are confronted with violent and disrespectful verbal abuse. Are those the same fellow brothers and sisters who are normally very vociferous about the idea of a ‘Christian nation’? Are these the same people who ask for a prayer at the beginning of every meeting?” queried Woeste.
The first homosexual couple to be known in Malawi was that of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steve Monjeza who in 2009 held an engagement ceremony in Blantyre. The courts later handed them a 14-year-jail term for engaging in “unnatural acts”.
The punishment was, however, overturned by former president Bingu wa Mutharika, who pardoned the two.
This happened after United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon visited the country. Some quarters believe the presidential pardon was due to pressure from the UN Secretary General.
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