‘We’ll solve Issa Njaunju, Robert Chasowa murders’
Government has promised Africa that justice will prevail in the murders of Polytechnic student Robert Chasowa and Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) senior officer Issa Njaunju.
Malawi gave the assurance in its statement on the state of human rights in the country to the 58th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights held in Banjul, Gambia, on Thursday.
Chief State Advocate in the Ministry of Justice Pacharo Kayira, said government has faced a number of challenges in making sure that citizens enjoy their human rights, citing the deaths of the two as examples.
Chasowa was murdered at Polytechnic in 2011. Police at first attributed it to suicide, a claim that was later proven untrue by a Commission of Inquiry.
While arrests were made in connection with the incident, the case has stalled since and there have been repeated calls from various quarters for justice to prevail on the matter.
Njaunju, who was Director of Operations and Administration at the ACB, was murdered last year and his body was dumped and his car burnt in Lilongwe.
Just like Chasowa’s case, Njaunju’s has also attracted widespread attention including members of the diplomatic community in Malawi who have urged the authorities to ensure that the matter gets to a proper conclusion.
Making the statement, Kayira said Malawi has faced specific challenges which “we have addressed to the best of our ability and in line with our legal order”.
“Chairperson and Commissioners, you will recall the issue of a University of Malawi student named Robert Chasowa who was found dead a few years ago. The quest to find the perpetrators of this crime is ongoing and as we have stated before, the Government is committed to ensure that justice is served.
“Last year a senior officer in Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau, Mr. Njaunju was brutally murdered. So far, one suspect has been arrested,” Kayira told the delegates attending the session.
He also reported that the country has witnessed a rise in attacks on persons with albinism, adding “there is serious commitment at the highest level of Government to deal with this evil practice.”
“Barely last week, the Head of State made a special appeal for joint efforts in dealing with attacks on persons with albinism. It is our sincere hope that this practice will be uprooted. In addition, we are expecting a visit by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Persons with albinism later this year,” Kayira said.
He also reported to the commission that Access to Information Bill is ready for tabling in Parliament.
“It was necessary for the bill to undergo the appropriate processes before tabling and as such the Government of Malawi wishes to emphasise its long-held commitment to enact the Bill into law,” he said.
He told the commission that the Law Commission has successfully completed the programme on the Review of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.
He said the critical recommendations are the broadening of the definition of the phrase “domestic violence” which before the review was only limited to conduct that was an offence.
“However, in the course of review, there was realisation that an act may not be an offence under penal law but qualifies as domestic violence. The Law Commission has also recommended that persons who are in courtship or are engaged yet to be married should fall within the definition of domestic relationship.
“The Law Commission shall continue with the Review of the Witchcraft Act, the Public Health Act, the Citizenship Act, the Prisons Act, the Development of Legislation on Sentencing Guidelines; and the Development of Legislation on Spent Convictions. The last three programmes are expected to be concluded by August 2016 and the reports submitted to Government at that time,” he said.
Some members of the civil society attending the session said they are still worried with the level of commitment that government has displayed in achieving some of the human rights goals it has set for itself.
“Government is not committed to address burning issues surrounding the death of Chasowa and Njaunju. These are long overdue cases and we don’t see any tangible action, apart from the rhetoric that we hear from government all the time like in this case,” said Gift Trapence, executive director for Centre for the Development of People (Cedep).
He said the same applies to Access to Information Bill adding, “we have seen impunity and reluctance on the part of government to table the bill”.
“If indeed this government wants to see democracy succeed, it should not be seen to be pushed on the bill, especially the one that the civil society bodies such as Namisa and Media Council pushed and not what it thinks should be passed. We are concerned whether the aspirations of Malawians will be carried in the bill given the recent pronouncements from President Peter Mutharika that he will not assent to a bill that he personally will not like,” said Trapence.
Coordinator of Mango Network, a grouping of human rights NGOs involved in LGBTI and key populations’ rights, Reverend MacDonald Sembereka, said government’s commitment to upholding human rights as reported to the commission, must be shown in the resources it has committed to the cause.
“Of late we have seen a sharp decrease in the funding to state human rights institutions which are pivotal in driving the agenda,” said Sembereka.
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