Saturday, May 4, 2013
HUMAN RIGHTS CONSULTATIVE COMMITTEE'S OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT JOYCE BANDA - CONCERNS ON THE STATE OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS
HUMAN RIGHTS CONSULTATIVE COMMITTEE (HRCC)
Thursday / 3rd May, 2013.
OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT JOYCE BANDA - CONCERNS ON THE STATE OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS
It is with much delight that, on behalf of the Board, Members and Staff of Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), we take this opportunity to express our heartfelt pleasure on your continued effort to maintain this country’s peace amidst the current economic, financial and food security challenges. The recurrent natural disasters like floods have not spared this country this year.
The Floods in Karonga, Phalome and Salima have rendered many homeless, destitute and threatened the livelihoods and security of ordinary citizens in these areas.
As if this is not enough, for a country that is dependent on agriculture, there have been a number of challenges faced in the agriculture and food security sector:
Hunger versus scarcity of maize where people particularly women were sleeping on long queues some with babies on their back at ADMARC deports;
Floods in some areas that shall affect maize yields;
Supply of bad farm inputs (seeds) in some areas in the country
People prematurely selling maize which is still in the fields in order to make ends meet.
These practices that have taken place in some parts of this country may also affect the availability of food this year and livelihoods of many local citizens. We at HRCC regard the right to food as one of the most fundamental human rights. No meaningful sustainable development – and poverty reduction programme can be achieved if people do not have enough food.
Once again, please accept, Your Excellency, our warmest appreciation for the efforts, and responses that government has made to mitigate these challenges.
Your Excellency, HRCC, a grouping of 97 civil society organizations working to protect and promote good governance, human rights and democracy in Malawi, observes with concern that despite the so many government efforts to improve the livelihoods of Malawians there has been a clampdown of fundamental human rights particularly freedom of expression such as touting of journalists by the government from expressing their views on issues of national interest and threatening and intimidating some individual Malawians.
Your Excellency, We at HRCC considers it a matter of deep regret and great embarrassment that intimidation, harassment and abuse of the media seem to be rising again in Malawi.
We at HRCC have observed the tension between the media and the state house which has worsened since a delegation from the media called on you on 22nd April 2013 to present the Table Mountain Declaration which proposes the abolition of insult laws in Africa ahead of the World Press Freedom Day, May 3. We were appalled to learn that you had stopped reading Malawian newspapers because they are full of hatred towards you and could kill you the way they did with late President Bingu wa Mutharika. If what the media reported is what was said then we fear for freedom of expression and the media in this country. A media that kills is the worst thing that can ever happen to a democracy. Coming from a state president, we are so disturbed because we do not know what the consequences of a media that kills would be.
We were however; pleased hearing from the same reports that you had assured the media and therefore Malawians that you would look into the matter by declaring: “In as far as press freedom is concerned you have a friend in me.”
Our fears seem to have been vindicated when we heard that you had refused to sign the Declaration of Table Mountain which is intended to abolish “Insult Laws” in Africa to allow for Free Press.
This was confirmed by the state house when the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Malawi) made a statement informing Malawians about the development. The declaration which was put together by Media leaders under the auspices of the world Association of Newspapers and News Publishers and the world Editors guarantees that African governments will respect media freedom. We feel obliged and our duty to reconsider your decision your Excellency. We therefore appeal to you your Excellency to sign the declaration as a commitment to ensure fundamental human rights through freedom of the press.
The denial to sign the declaration draws back the efforts you have made in the past 12 months since you became Malawi’s State President towards enhancing democracy in Malawi. HRCC remembers very well your previous commitment to freedom of the press when you impressed upon parliament to repeal section 46 of the penal code and pushed for the removal of VAT on News Print and Newspapers.
We hope through your statesmanship and exemplary leadership that you your Excellency will promote the freedom of expression that is enshrined in the Constitution and that you shall attach top priority to the protection of citizens’ rights and freedoms.
Section 35 of the Malawi constitution clearly states that every person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.
Your excellency, HRCC believes that Public bodies have an obligation to disclose information and every member of the public has a corresponding right to receive information; “information” includes all records held by a public body, regardless of the form in which it is stored as stated on Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 5 a formally binding legal treaty, further guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression also at Article 19, in terms very similar to the UDHR. Malawi ratified the ICCPR in December 1993. By ratifying the ICCPR, State Parties agree to refrain from interfering with the rights protected therein, including the right to freedom of expression. However, the ICCPR also places an obligation on State Parties to take positive steps to ensure that rights, including freedom of expression and information, are respected.
Lastly, Your Excellency, HRCC will give you all the necessary support as you push your vision of Economic recovery plan particularly on issues that focus on human development such as food security, education, health, peace, unity, promotion and protection of human rights and as you deal with the so many challenges facing this country.
God Bless Malawi and Keep It a Land of Peace.
Mrs Margaret Ali Baldwin Chiyamwaka
VICE CHAIRPERSON NATIONAL COORDINATOR
The Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) is a network of 97 civil society organizations (CSOs) comprising local civil society organizations with interest in the areas of protection of people’s rights, promotion of the human rights agenda, and safeguarding good governance and the rule of law. Established in July, 1995, the network was an initiative of church institutions, human rights NGOs and the Malawi Law Society in order to address issues around human rights, advocacy and information sharing among civil society organizations.
HRCC has a nationwide outreach with its members spread in all the districts of Malawi. HRCC has three categories of members: full members, associate members; and affiliate members. In addition, there are partners that work with HRCC on key developmental issues and currently there are four partners.
The Human Rights Consultative Committee which was established during the period Malawi was going through a transition from a single party to political pluralism is a legally registered organization under the Company’s Registration Act. The HRCC secretariat was established with support from the Danish Institute for Human Rights with the aim of coordinating the activities of the network. The driving values of HRCC formation are as follows:
Promoting civil and political rights.
Responding to the need for driving the democratization process, and creating awareness on constitutional and human rights issues.
Harmonizing the interventions of civil society organizations working on human rights in order to take advantage of economies of scale, reducing duplication of efforts, and maximizing efficiency gains.