The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Governments of Norway and Ireland have signed a $5.4 Million Financing Agreements to democracy consolidation projects and human rights in Malawi for the next four years. UNDP Administrator Helen Clark witnessed the signing ceremony while on a three day visit to the southern African country.

Earlier in the day Helen Clark visited the Democracy Consolidation Projects in Malomo community in the Ntchisi district of Malawi. Testimonials from local beneficiaries of the project described how life had improved for victims of domestic violence, corruption and people who are livening with HIV/AIDS.

“We are very delighted to see that we are supporting human rights in Malawi.This morning, we had a chance to hear from communities how they have been empowered and when you hear members of communities articulating how they have been empowered, it’s very inspiring indeed. We would like to sincerely thank Norway and Ireland for supporting these programmes on human rights and democracy consolidation” Ms Clark said at the signing ceremony in the Capital Hotel in Lilongwe.

One of the women who had been living in abusive marriage described how going through the training offered by the project helped her improve her family’s life. Now, she said, after she had undergone the training and realized her rights, she is now able to reason with her husband on various issues including limiting the size of the family and sharing the proceeds from their produce.

The Government of Norway, a long standing partner of UNDP and the Government of Malawi, has committed 20 million Norwegian Krona (approx. USD 3.5 million) for the Democracy Consolidation Project which is implemented by the Office of the President and Cabinet through 16 civil society organizations, synods and faith based organizations in 19 districts.

The Norwegian Ambassador to Malawi Asbjørn Eidhammer said that UNDP has a special role to play in Malawi. “The Programs UNDP have chosen are inline with Norway’s “ he added In addition to the Democracy Consolidation project, the Government of Norway extended its support to the Human Rights promotion and protection project in Malawi by contributing 9.7 million Norwegian Krona (approx. USD 1.69 million) to UNDP implemented by the Malawi Human Rights Commission in coordination with the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman in cooperation with human rights and civil society organizations.

The Government of Ireland committed EUR 200,000 to the Democracy Consolidation project initially for one year and announced a multi-year agreement from 2013 onwards. The total estimated project fund is USD 20 million, out of whichUSD 13 million is expected to be mobilized. The fund is managed by UNDP Malawi. Both projects are responding to a number of challenges that Malawi is facing both with human rights promotion and protection and democracy consolidation.

They are to address key challenges affecting the country, e.g. need for accelerating poverty reduction at community level, prevention of gender based violence and promotion of women’s status and rights, deepening and consolidating a culture to respect human rights in all sectors of the community, and developing institutional capacities of state institutions mandated to promote and protect human rights.

The Democracy Consolidation Project has been very instrumental in empowering people to promote, protect and defend human rights in Malawi. The project has improved the efficiency of civil society, catalyzed the promotion of good governance, and ensured realization of human rights at community level.

Through the project, communities have been transformed from being reactive to being proactive in dealing with their daily life challenges. The Human Rights support project facilitates the design of an architecture that enhances coordination amongst human rights actors such as the Malawi Human Rights Commission and Office of the Ombudsman, and equip them with appropriate skills as well as collaborative planning and actions, so that they are capable of undertaking state party reporting and advocacy for the implementation of the UPR recommendations.

The project has been designed also to enhance working relationships and interfaces between constitutional bodies and civil society organizations on human rights. An integral crosscutting aspect of the project is the promotion of gender equality and the rights of the vulnerable and marginalized groups such as women, children and persons with disabilities.

Helen Clark commended the Government of Her Excellency Mrs. Joyce Banda for taking bold steps to deepen democracy by repealing the injunctions Bill and Section 46 of the Penal Code, which had restrained freedom of speech. Norwegian Ambassador to Malawi, His Excellency Asbjørn Eidhammer, the Irish Ambassador, Her Excellency Mrs. Liz O’Higgins, signed on behalf of their governments while UNDP Resident Representative Mr. Richard Dictus signed on behalf of UNDP. Deputy Chief Secretary, Ms. Hawa Ndilowe, the Chairperson of the of the Human Rights Commission, Mrs. Sophie Kalinde and the Director of Debt and Aid in the Ministry of Finance Mr. Peter Simbani were among some of the high level dignitaries that attended the signing ceremony.

Both the Norwegian and Irish Ambassador expressed satisfaction with the democracy consolidation and human rights projects and pledges their continued support to the country. On her Part, Ms Ndilowe said: “I want to re-affirm government’s commitment towards good governance and human rights and that the quality of life of Malawians improves. I also want to thank Norway and Ireland for the wonderful support towards governance projects,”

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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