Malawi rights report 2013: PP gov’t accused of suppressing media, politicizing relief food

The state-funded Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has released an annual human rights report for the country cataloging rights abuses including faulting the government on the suppression of the media and the involvement of ruling party officials in the distribution of humanitarian food.

MHRC chairperson Sophie Kalinde launched the report in Lilongwe together with commissioners Benedicto Kondowe, Rodgers Newa, Stephen Nkoka and Marshal Chilenga.

Kalinde said they have already presented the report to President Banda and submitted the same to Parliament.

Media freedom

The report on the Status of Human Rights in Malawi from June 2012 to May 2013 released on Thursday this week condemns ruling PP officials for continuing to monopolise the country’s public broadcasters – MBC.

Kalinde: Report presented to Pres. Banda

Kalinde: Report presented to Pres. Banda

It also regrets President’s Banda’s rejection to sign the Table Mountain Declaration—a statement of freedom of the press in Africa—which the report says could contribute to the building of a strong, free and independent media in Malawi.

“The State President [Joyce Banda] variously expressed misgivings with the way some of the stories and events relating to the PP led government. The statements that the President uttered can potentially lead to undue suppression of the media,” reads the report.

MHRC calls upon public officers to desist from making comments that potentially or actually compromises
fundamental human rights and freedoms, in particular the right to freedom of the press.

Relief food

The report criticized President Banda and her PP on maize distribution to the disadvantaged, saying it was being politicized and the practice infringes on the rights of members of opposition parties.

“The PP programme led to a politicised approach to dealing with the situation which potentially does not guarantee equitable distribution of the commodity to all deserving vulnerable persons. Such approaches raise the possibility of putting political priorities above fundamental human rights priorities.

“The underlying consequence of this is that those that are not associated or perceived not to be associated with the political grouping in question may be left out. This defeats the very essence of a human rights-based approach where the issue of equitable access to a matter of right is relegated to a position of access being accorded to a privileged few,” reads the report in part.

Assets declaration

The commission also raises concern about public officials’ failure, including the President and Vice-President to declare their assets, adding the recent removal of some officials from public offices after change of government administration last year was unlawful and deprived the affected individuals of their right to administrative justice.

Minister of Information Moses Kunkuyu maintained that President Banda followed all relevant procedures to declare her assets. The government spokesman said   questions on the contents of her declaration should be going to office of the Speaker of Parliament.

The annual report is mandated by Parliament and is closely studied by rights groups and some foreign governments.

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