Monday, April 20, 2015

CHRR, Cedep Response to Malawi Government’s “Intimidation” Over CSOs’ Role in UPR and Other UN Mechanisms

CHRR, Cedep Joint Press Statement
CHRR, Cedep Response to Malawi Government’s “intimidation” over CSOs’ role in UPR and other UN mechanisms: We will not be moved an inch from fulfilling our human rights and governance obligations as human rights defenders in the best interest of human rights for all

1.0. Preamble
We, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (Cedep), have learnt with deep shock and regret the recent “intimidatory” rants by the Malawi government through the Solicitor General and Secretary to the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs accusing the Civil Society Organizations who appeared before the working group during the recent pre-sessions of the 2nd review of UPR due in May of ambushing government with issues which were not raised at country level with her government. In both the media interview and during her “highly emotionally charged” opening speech at the working session of Malawi’s taskforce on Convention against torture (CAT) at Lilongwe hotel on 15th April 2015, the Solicitor General took a swipe to label the CSOs who “frequent” Geneva as unpatriotic who are only hell-bent at portraying a bad picture of government while neglecting the remarkable progress made by government in human rights realm. The Secretary to the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs further alleged that the CSOs were doing all this just to please their donor masters for sustainability of their institutions. 

2.0. Our response to “unpatriotism” rants
To begin with, we at CHRR and Cedep are on one hand not surprised with the “unpatriotic” accusations levelled against us by the Solicitor General considering the fact that some other prominent government politicians including the Minister of Gender Hon. Patricia Kaliati, Minister of Information Kondwani Nankhumwa and Minister of Health Jean Kalilani have of the recent past made similar chants especially following our joint anti-NACGATE advocacy with other 20 Civil Society Organisations in the country with the climax of it being the 13th January 2015 demonstrations against bad governance and political abuse and interference in HIV/AIDS funds at National Aids Commission (NAC) for activities which have nothing to do with HIV/AIDS prevention and response. Coming from another highly ranked government official, though a professional not necessarily a politician, is no surprise but rather confirms the existing collective philosophy in the current APM’s regime that any actor/stakeholder who decides to expose the current regime gaffes, especially on the international scene, is unpatriotic. Patriotism, according to APM’s regime dictionary is merely singing praise of the current regime as the best thing to have ever happened to this country even in the midst of shortfalls requiring urgent national and international response to remedy the same.

However, what is surprising to us on the other hand is to hear such ill-advised comments being echoed by a great respected professional with not only high academic accolades but also well conversant with the international reporting mechanisms including Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and other UN mechanisms. This is not only embarrassing but also retrogressive in as far as the government’s committed efforts towards protection and promotion of human rights for all in line with the international human rights instruments to which it is party to are concerned. We, CHRR and Cedep, would like to reiterate what we said a month ago that we will never be part of the docile citizenry that tacitly supports mediocrity in the name of “patriotism”, if patriotism. As human rights defenders, we will never sacrifice the social accountability movement, both locally and internationally, at the altar of a professed “patriotism”.    We will never be part of those “hand clappers” who entertain “evil” under the guise of patriotism. Malawians of good will are the best judges of who a true patriot is between the one who conceals his “sins” and die in “iniquity”, and the one who exposes them, and finds mercy and deliverance. Posterity will judge us - who a true patriot is. 

3.0. Do/Did CSOs really ambush government with issues in Geneva? Government’s deliberate distortion of facts as a tool to divert public attention from real issues requiring its urgent response and accountability
We at CHRR and Cedep also find wanting the accusations made by the Solicitor General that government is often ambushed with issues which it has no canal knowledge of at country level but are presented by CSOs in Geneva. The accusation, in our view, is one of the current regime’s strategies or propaganda aimed at diverting the public attention from real issues of human concern requiring government’s urgent response and accountability. 

With reference to the recent UPR-precession in Geneva attended by government officials and civil society actors including CHRR, Cedep, IPAs, MISA-Malawi Chapter, NGO Coalition on Child Rights (NGO CCR), the issues which appeared in the CSOs presentation were not new, and most of them had been repeatedly raised domestically with government but with no tangible reaction. It would be naïve and gullible enough for one to suggest that matters pertaining to access to information, legal barriers to enjoyment freedom of expression, operationalization of the Independent Complaints Commission, sexual reproductive health, the continued underfunding of human rights bodies like Ombudsman, Malawi Human Rights Commission,  Legal Aid bureau, LGBTI, child protection and rights, access to justice, July 20 saga, people living with albinism, extrajudicial killings and protection of vulnerable groups, poor prison conditions, protection of human rights defenders, freedom of assembly and association, Chasowa and Kalonga Stambuli, cashgate cases, just to mention a few, came as an ambush to government in the recent Geneva sessions. 

Instead of engrossing itself in baseless intimidatory antics aimed at suppressing the CSOs voice in UPR and other international human rights mechanisms, we urge the government to put its house in order and address the concerns once and for all as part of her human rights obligations and commitment to international instruments to which Malawi is party to. Why does the current regime seem to be so concerned and threatened with our presence in these international human rights platforms when we have been doing the same under the previous regimes? What are they hiding from the general public? Where are these donor’s influence accusations coming from, by the way? 

4.0. Our response to allegations of portraying a bad picture of the current regime as a fundraising tool to win donor support for sustainability of our institutions
We, CHRR and Cedep, do not only perceive the above subject allegations from the government through the Solicitor General as not only absurd, illogical but also insensitive. Donors that support government and CSOs work particularly in human rights and democratic governance need to be applauded for such a complimentary role in the promotion and protection of human rights for all

It is therefore insensitive for a government to fault those donors who support CSOs work at international mechanisms, which ironically the country is party to and hence obliged to fulfil its commitments, in putting government to task on its continued failure for instance to bring to conclusion of Kalonga Stambuli mysterious death, Robert chasowa Murder and government’s continued unfilled promises on the tabling of access to information bill just to mention a few of issues presented by CSOs. 

If anything, such donors should be commended for supporting CSOs initiatives to see to it that just is attained in the best interest of the victims and the vulnerable groups. To put the record straight, we at CHRR and Cedep have no problems with any donor supporting the protection and promotion of human rights (civil, political, cultural, economic rights) and good governance through government, civil society or any other player towards human and economic development. After all, while strides have to be made for the country to work towards reducing donor dependence it is a fact at this level we still need such support than ever to improve attainment and realization of civil, political, economic and cultural rights for all Malawians.  

  It is also misleading on the part of government to suggest that CSOs only dwell on the “negatives” while deliberately ignoring the “positives” registered by government. The government and the general republic can be referred to all the shadow reports and statements we have presented at these international mechanisms which Malawi is party to alongside other CSOs to appreciate the blend of “positives” so far registered and areas requiring improvement. These statements are often shared with key stakeholders including government, civil society and the media just to appreciate the issues raised, and some mechanisms even publish them on their websites. However, it is imperative to point out that while some positives have been registered there is still more work, even outweighing the positives, in human rights realm that needs government’s attention, and it would be suicidal on our part as a country (government and civil society included) to dwell on singing praise on a few registered successes to the extent of turning a blind eye to areas that require our urgent attention. This is perhaps the reason why the so-called “negatives” are highlighted more than the “positives” by these international mechanism particularly on concluding observations and recommendations with the objective of improving the human rights situation in a state party.

5.0. The role of CSOs in UPR and other UN and international mechanisms/treaty (e.g. ACHPR) bodies in promotion and protection of human rights for all
We, CHRR and Cedep, are also disturbed by Solicitor General’s attempts to portray that CSOs just wake up to go to Geneva and report ill about the current government in the process downplaying the relevance and importance of CSOs in UPR and other international mechanisms including those relating to UN, African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. Who mandates the CSOs to go to Geneva? 

The answer is simple: The government of Malawi, by virtue of being party to the various UN mechanisms and treaty bodies, mandates the CSOs to go to Geneva to appear before the various UN mechanisms including ICCPR, UPR and also other international forums on the continent like the ACHPR etc. Besides, some of the CSOs including CHRR, Cedep are part and parcel of government’s constituted and coordinated taskforces on UPR and other UN mechanisms which partly speaks volume of Malawi government’s recognition of the importance of the role of CSOs in these international mechanisms particularly in providing a comprehensive picture of the human rights situation in the country.

 It is also a fact that Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation acquired its observer status at African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) since 1998, and both CHRR and Cedep continue to champion their human rights work at UN level through different UN mechanisms such as the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). All these are facts which the Solicitor General and her cohorts are fully conversant with but deliberately chose to ignore them just to please her “political masters” and evade government’s accountability on the various human rights issues of public concern like the murder of Chasowa, July 20 demonstrations saga, Access to Information bill, dilapidating prison conditions, the continued underfunding of human rights institutions like Malawi Human Rights Commission just to mention a few. This is shameful and retrogressive.

The United Nations through its various mechanisms recognize the vital role the CSOs have in providing the alternative. For instance, under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) the assessment of the human rights records of the concerned country are based on three sources of information, namely: information by the State concerned; a compilation of information prepared by Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), summarizing information contained in the reports of the treaty bodies, special procedures of the UN Council, and other UN documents that are relevant in examining the record of the concerned country; and information from stakeholders like NGOs. The basis of the review of any country’s human rights record under UPR as established by Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1 is the following: UN Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Human Rights instruments to which the State is Party to, voluntary pledges and commitments by States and applicable international humanitarian law.
It is also important to note that besides UPR, under other international mechanism to which Malawi is party to like ICCPR and ACHPR in addition to the State report and replies to the list of issues and questions, the treaty bodies also receive additional information from other sources such as National Human Rights institutions, national, regional or international NGOs, and other Civil Society actors. Reports from national NGOs/CSOs are of particular value to the treaty bodies in examining State reports, as they provide an alternative source of information on the human rights situation in a particular country.   This makes such reports easy and useful tools for the work of treaty body members who can crosscheck and compare information with that supplied by the State party. 

Additionally, the Secretariat of the relevant treaty body prepares a country dossier, containing all available relevant information on the situation in the concerned country within the UN system and other relevant sources. Additional information, generally of a confidential nature, may also be submitted by the UN specialized agencies. As such, the concluding observations and recommendations for a particular country cannot in anyway be doctored by a particular CSOs but rather are a product of a careful examination of all the above mentioned reports including that of government, CSOs and UN country mechanisms, and are debated and adopted by the treaty body in a private meeting. 

In short, the CSOs have a vital role in the UPR and other international mechanisms as they can provide input into several crucial stages of the reporting processes including participating in national consultations preceding the drafting of the state party; submitting their own reports to the treaty bodies based on their own research, findings and views on the implementation of the relevant treaty at the national level as such shadow reports can help committee members of a treaty body achieve a more comprehensive picture of the human rights situation in the country; following up of the recommendations of treaty bodies through monitoring the efforts of government to implement the concluding observations and recommendations of the treaty bodies, and reporting this information back to the treaty bodies either through formal submissions or informally; and also lobbying governments to implement the concluding observations. 

6.0. The Way forward: We will not be moved an inch from fulfilling our human rights and governance obligations
We at CHRR and Cedep would like to reiterate that the recent “intimidatory” antics by the current regime will not move us an inch in performing and fulfilling our human rights and governance obligations as human rights defenders. If anything, these intimidatory rants have only strengthened our inward resolve to fearlessly stand for justice, good governance and human rights for all. No dictatorial sentiment, let alone political threats, shall succeed in wooing us to depart from the path of reason. We remain charged up for the noble service before us in the best interest of ordinary Malawians and human rights for all.  We are, and shall remain human rights servants!!!!     

God bless Malawi!!!!
Signed by                                                           

Timothy Mtambo                                                             Gift Trapence
Executive Director, CHRR                                    Executive Director   CEDEP

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