CCJP condemns Malawi Police for Teargassing Queens Hospital
CCJP condemns Malawi Police for Teargassing Queens Hospital
By Malawi Exclusive
STATE ABROGATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DUTIES AND CONTINUED VIOLENCE IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE MAY 2019 POLLS
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), an advocacy and governance arm of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), is appalled by continued lawlessness acts and increased cases of violence since the country went to the polls on 21stMay 2019. We have noted that several violent acts happen in the presence of personnel from legally constituted security bodies as if there is a silent approval of such acts, a situation which has potential to encourage impunity and throw Malawi in a lawless and an ungovernable society.
Further, we are dismayed and distressed by the lack of national political leadership in addressing such issues. The Government of Malawi’s blatant disregard for fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in our Constitution and numerous international human rights instruments, which the country is party to, cannot go without condemnation.
Squeezing the civic space for human rights defenders and muzzling the voice of citizens in their bid to seek justice runs counter to democratic tenets.
2.0 The country’s deplorable human rights situation: a ticking time bomb
Since the contentious and controversial May 2019 elections, our country has witnessed nation wide and district based demonstrations as citizens continue to demand electoral justice. The quest for electoral justice is paramount in ensuring legitimacy of those entrusted to govern.
It is very unfortunate and saddening that the state authorities appear not to appreciate that Malawi’s democracy hinges on the Bill of Rights provided in Chapter IV of the Constitution of Malawi.
State machinations and schemes orchestrated by the Malawi Police Service, Local Council Officials and the Office of the Attorney General, among others, in deliberately thwarting demonstrations is quite retrogressive.
It is also a cause of concern that, at times, such demonstrations have turned violent characterized by running battles between the citizens and the state security authorities. Security organs are supposed to protect citizens and property during demonstrations as it is the duty of the State to protect human rights which are inalienable.
Fundamental entitlements such as the right to demonstrate and freedom of assembly are guaranteed by the supreme law and cannot be given to Malawians as a gift or charity.
It is also the responsibility of demonstrators to respect other people’s rights and property to maintain peace and co-existence. The continued political use of public bodies such as the police and local councils by political leaders to block demonstrations can only worsen the political uncertainty in our country. Assaulting protesters and arresting or threatening human rights defenders contravenes the State’s obligations to protect and promote human rights.
Effectively, dialogue and civic engagement for the promotion of peace would not yield anything. The Malawi Government is a primary duty bearer in the protection and promotion of human rights; government officials should always realize this.
The violation of human rights and the politically motivated violence we have experienced over the last four months since 21st May 2019 denigrate the human rights gains we have registered as a country over the years. Our situation is even more dangerous when governing politicians are openly, directly or indirectly perpetrating violence against opposing voices.
3.0 Growing impunity: Politicization and inadequacies in the Malawi Police Service
All citizens deserve protection from their government. We wish to remind the government and all stakeholders that the role of the Malawi Police Service (MPS) is central to protecting human rights.
Regrettably, we have seen the leadership of the MPS openly being guided by political whims in the maintenance of public order and security during citizen demonstrations and protests. That the MPS has, at some occasions, asked citizens to provide their own security during mass protests and demonstrations is not only laughable but also irresponsible of the government as far as human rights protection is concerned. In the view of CCJP, the office of the Inspector General of Police has proved to be much compromised politically and that professionalism of the MPS in the observation of human rights during demonstrations is thus wanting. We believe that our police officers can do better if politicians put their hands off the MPS.
The suspicious conduct of the MPS in managing citizen protests has left the body with scars of loss of public trust and diminished integrity and credibility. The casual approach with which the MPS has handled cases of violence where members or loyalists of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are involved effectively breeds impunity. Brutality and violence unleashed by alleged DPP cadets onto demonstrators and other citizens has attracted a blind eye and deaf ear from the MPS.
Thus, the brutal assault of Billy Mayaya, one of the members of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), on 25th September 2019, reportedly at the hands of DPP cadets, during the HRDC electoral injustice protests in Blantyre is a sorry story considering that police officers, who seemingly were present, would have provided protection.
CCJP further deplores the assault of two journalists and the undressing of a female police officer during the series of the demonstrations. Destruction of public and private property that the country has experienced is also being condemned strongly.
If we are not careful as a country, consequently, mob justice, lawlessness and intolerance may reign supreme. However, we cannot afford to slide back in such a fashion after 26 years of democracy.
While we laud the intervention of the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) in rendering assistance to the MPS in providing security during demonstrations, CCJP notes with concern the reports on the dehumanizing and degrading assaults suffered by protesters in Karonga. We strongly condemn the wayward conduct of some misguided protesters in injuring some MDF soldiers. However, the soldiers were in no way justifiable to dehumanize civilians, who are supposed to be protected, by taking the law into their own hands.
The death of a protester, Justin Phiri, from Karonga, in the custody of security authorities after allegedly been beaten is very worrisome and smacks of gross violation of the right to life. Cases of criminal acts by demonstrators should be treated as such by referring such incidents to appropriate authorities like the MPS and/or the courts of law.
These MDF perpetrated human rights violations should be investigated so that the law takes its course just like is the case in other criminal activities involving protesters which have been handled by the MPS and the courts. No one is above the law.
4.0 Crying out for servant leadership for peace and human rights observance
CCJP hopes that political leaders in the country, from both divide, will rise above partisan politics and allow peace to reign. Our political leaders have not demonstrated that they care in finding lasting solutions to the current political impasse. Utterances, official speeches and public symbolic gestures by political leaders can potentially incite violence. The office of the President, which is the appointing authority of the MPS leadership and that of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), is very key to the peace and tranquility of our nation. Loss of trust on any public officer erodes the integrity and credibility of their offices. Opposition political leaders have a duty, too, not to incite violence but champion peace building through seeking dialogue. The governing party and its leadership should also be seen to embrace dialogue and shed off executive arrogance.
CCJP applauds the courts and is optimistic and hopeful that the courts will continue to discharge their duties expeditiously and professionally in the various electoral related cases including the much anticipated presidential elections case.
Further, we hope that the leadership in the security bodies will protect human rights as dictated by the laws without any political compromise. It is also CCJP’s
expectation that citizens and protesters will always act or conduct themselves within the precincts of the law during demonstrations. Human rights are sacred, and they should be protected at all cost.
5.0 Our call for urgent action
In light of the above, CCJP recommends that:
1. That the office of the President and relevant parliamentary committee(s) urgently address the
MEC leadership saga which is the bone of contention in protests for electoral justice.
2. That Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) should investigate alleged cases of human rights violations perpetrated by police officers, MDF soldiers, DPP cadets and citizens during a
spate of protests that have occurred since the country went to the polls.
3. That Malawi Police Service rises above partisan politics and puts its house in order to adequately
protect citizens at all times and reclaim the institution’s lost public trust.
4. That the office of the Attorney General and local council executives, as public and not political
offices, should exercise reasonableness and rationality in dealing with protesters’ notices for
5. That the governing party (DPP) should discipline members of its youth wing (cadets) and all its
supporters involved in violent conduct. The party should also strictly administer its disciplinary
6. That traditional and religious leaders desist from commenting anyhow on the ongoing electoral
court cases to avoid being deemed partisan and misleading their subjects and faithful.
We have one Malawi, if we are not careful, history shall be there to judge us. We urge all Malawians to continue praying for this nation and act without emotions for Malawi to be better again.
Signed on: 26th September 2019
NATIONAL CCJP COORDINATOR