The Malawi Human Rights Commission (the Commission) monitored the 17
th January, 2013 demonstrations in line with its constitutional mandate of promoting and protecting human rights.
This includes monitoring situations which are prone to human rights violations and
abuses, such as demonstrations. The monitoring took the form of tracking and documenting media reports and on-spot monitoring, of developments relating to the demonstrations.
Prior to the demonstrations, the Commission’s Chairperson, Ambassador Sophie Asimenye
Kalinde engaged key stakeholders including: officials at the Malawi Police Service
Headquarters, the organizers of the demonstrations and some concerned civil society groups in Mzuzu and Karonga. During the demonstrations, the Commission’s monitoring teams were dispatched to Blantyre, Mzuzu and Lilongwe.
Commenting on the outcome of the
demonstrations, the Commission’s Chairperson has said:“It must be emphasised that the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi guarantees the right to assemble and hold demonstrations peacefully and unarmed under section 38.
This right must be respected and upheld by all duty bearers as demanded by section 15 of the Constitution. It is commendable that the 17th January demonstrations were peaceful.
The demonstrations saw the participation of significantly sizeable crowds that were observably unarmed and non-violent.
Generally, government demonstrated its commitment to upholding the right to peaceful assembly by making it clear that it welcomed the peaceful demonstrations. Relevant government agencies also played their rightful roles. The police in particular conducted their policing within the ambit of the law; no excessive force was employed and they exercised great restraint even in the face of provocative chants directed at them by some of the demonstrators.
It is also reassuring to learn that
there were no reports of any arbitrary arrests in connection with the demonstrations”.
She further observed that:“most importantly, the demonstrators, in particular the organizers,played by the rules of peaceful and non-violent demonstrations. Notably, there was a good relationship between the organizers, the police and the District Commissioners/Chief Executive Officers as evidenced by their cordial discussions at the points of petition delivery.
The media, on their part, responsibly and extensively covered the demonstrations, and the public broadcaster carried news footage of the demonstrations”.
Concluding her remarks on the Commission’s initial observations on the Demonstrations the Chairperson said:“The 17th January demonstrations are not about an individual or a group of individuals.
They are about the larger picture; the entrenchment of a culture of respect for human
rights in Malawi. The demonstrations represent a right step towards the respect for diversity of opinions and free expression of the same, through peaceful assembly and demonstrations, among other means, which is the hallmark of democracy.
Achieving this step took the concerted efforts by several players including: government and its agencies, especially the police; the demonstrations organizers; the media and most importantly the people of Malawi.”The Commission’s Chairperson has since recommended that “many demonstrations can be avoided if the political leaders in government ensure at all times that there are effective communication channels between them and the governed, providing opportunities for people to raise
substantive concerns on issues of public interest and providing meaningful responses to such issues.
This is crystalysed in section 12 of the Constitution in these terms; (1) All persons responsible for the exercise of powers of the state do so on trust and shall only exercise such power to the extent of their lawful authority and in accordance with their responsibilities to the people of Malawi. (2) The authority to exercise power of the state is conditional upon the sustained trust of the people of Malawi
and that trust can be maintained through open, accountable and transparent government and informed democratic choice”.
The Commission is finalising its comprehensive report on the demonstrations. Once finalised, the report will be shared with all relevant stakeholders.
The Commission is a constitutional body established under Chapter IV, section 129 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi and governed by the Human Rights Commission Act of 1998 (Cap 3: 08 of the Laws of Malawi). Its primary mandate is to promote and protect human rights and investigate violations of human rights.
The Commission monitored and investigated cases arising from the July 20, 2011 demonstrations.
In its Investigation Report, the Commission established that 19 people were killed by security forces with one dying at the hospital as a result of suffocation from tear-gas. The current fifth cohort of Commissioners that was appointed by Her Excellency the State President Mrs. Joyce Banda, effective July 5, 2012, comprises:
Ambassador Sophie Asimenye Kalinde (Chairperson); Mr. Marshal Chilenga; Reverend Dr. Zacc Kawalala; Mr. Rodgers Newa, Mr. Benedicto Kondowe, Mr. Dalitso Kubalasa, Mr. Stephen Nkoka, Justice Tujilane Chizumila, Rtd (the Ombudsman) and Mrs. Gertrude Lynn Hiwa SC (the Law Commissioner).