The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Regional Secretariat is heartened by reports that the planned August17 demonstrations have been averted pending the outcome of ongoing dialogue between Government and civil society representatives in Malawi. We are hopeful that an agreement will be reached to ensure that there is no repeat of the of July 20 and 21 brutality.
Just yesterday, August 15, the Malawi government Human Rights Commission confirmed in its official report into the violent demonstrations of last month, that police indeed used excessive force. The Commission confirmed reports that 19 people had been killed and another 58 others were shot by police who used more force than necessary against protesters, including live bullets. Amongst the injured were 25 journalists.
As a human rights-based organisation MISA condemns any efforts to restrict citizens from exercising their democratic right to protest if they feel their Government is not responsive to their needs. This is exactly what Malawians did on July 20 and 21 when they took to the streets to protest against continued maladministration and violations of the constitution despite government attempts to intimidate them.
Of particular concern to MISA were the attacks on journalists who by virtue of their work should be allowed safe access to information. Journalists are at the forefront, risking their lives in the process of seeking information. Government should therefore ensure their ability to access information so that citizens ultimately have access to that same information.
The extensive torture, beatings and inhuman treatment experienced by civil society leaders, journalists and innocent civilians at the hands of the Malawian police last month is outrightly unconstitutional and a grave infringement of human rights. MISA RS appeals to the Mutharika government and its Police Officials to take heed in monitoring that such prospective violations are reasonably averted. In doing so, the Mutharika government’s adherence to relevant International and National Law is vital.
The United Nations’ Basic Principles on the use of force and firearms by Law Enforcement Agencies (adopted by the Eighth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, 27 August to 7 September 1990) is of paramount reference hereto. Section 4 states that “… law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. They may use force and firearms only if other means remain ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result.” Further reference to sections 5-11 should be noted.
In addition, the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi expressly states in Chapter IV, section 15 that, “the human rights and freedoms enshrined in this Chapter shall be respected and upheld by the executive, legislature and judiciary and all organs of the Government and its agencies and, where applicable to them, by all natural and legal persons in Malawi and shall be enforceable in the manner prescribed in this Chapter”. Therefore, ones rights to human dignity and personal freedom (section 19(3)), freedom of expression (section 35) and freedom of assembly (section 38) are to be enforced by the Malawian government and Police Services in maintaining the protection of civilians when exercising their roles and responsibilities, as proclaimed by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).
MISA Regional Secretariat concurs with the CHRI in condemning the routine use of intimidation, beatings, illegal detention, torture and excessive use of force employed on the July 20 and 21 demonstrations to curb legitimate expressions of dissent and the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. It is important to note that the Police Services of Malawi as stipulated in Chapter 15 of the Constitution, have a dual duty not only to protect their citizens against external forces but also against the misuse of power afforded by them in an effort to accomplish their former duty. Therefore, the eventual occurrence of such an infringement should be eradicated.
In addition the African Union explicitly recognizes the right to intervene in a member state on humanitarian and human rights grounds. MISA RS calls upon the Malawian government to adhere to the AU guidelines based on the recommendations of a 2001 report from the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty entitled The Responsibility to Protect. The report asserts that “Sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens but when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of state.” Therefore as an African community it is essential that we all stand together in condemning all forms of violence, intimidation and torture perpetuated by those in power against civilians and journalists, during legitimate demonstrations.
We remain hopeful that the Mutharika government will show leadership and prove its commitment to the good governance and the well-being of its citizens by ensuring a peaceful resolution to the ongoing dialogue.
Enquiries: Kaitira Kandjii
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Private Bag 13386
Tel: +264 61 232975
Fax: +264 61 248016
Mobile: +264 81 129 9755