Bingu’s govt dents Malawi rights record – campaigner

Malawi’s vocal human rights campaigner Undule Mwakasungura says the country is facing huge challenges in governance and human rights under President Bingu wa Mutharika rule.

He made the remarks on Monday in Lilongwe at Crossroads Hotel where his Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) in partnership with the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) is holding a workshop for Human Rights Defenders from Malawi to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).

“We have seen how government has forced on us legislations and policies that are not in line with the values of democracy and human rights we fought for,” said Mwakasungura.

Undule: Challenges

He reminded the participants the unpopular laws and policies introduced during the Mutharika era including amending Section 46 of the penal code -to give powers to the minister to ban any publication deemed unsuitable to Malawi audience.

Others are; Amendment of Police act –giving police powers to search without a warrant and amending the Constitution to give President Powers to decide on Local Government Elections.

He also reminded that the Mutharika administration proceeded to change the national flag against peoples wish.

Mwakasungura also touched on unpopular policies such as education quota system, policies which are dividing Malawians and marginalizing certain regions.

Attacks

“In the wake of all these governance and human rights challenges, those of us who have stood up to condemn and resist such acts have found ourselves being attacked just to silence us,” he informed.

Mwakasungura said the country has seen continued attacks against human rights defenders   where they have tried to speak out on national issues.

“In one way or the other a number of us gathered here have received threats. Our offices have either been broken into or burnt to ashes. Our personal houses have been petrol bombed,” he said.

Adding: “But it’s unfortunate that so far nobody has been accountable to all these evil acts against the Human Rights Defenders.”

He called on Malawi human rights defenders to “explore alternatives” and reflect on their work, the cause of human rights in order to make Malawi a better nation.

He also pointed out that while they appreciate the challenge that Malawi has faced in terms of compliance to the African Charter on Human and People Rights, the country has never submitted any state party report since ratifying the Charter.

“That should be a challenge to us as Human Rights Defenders to either submit our shadow reports or participate in the sessions to discuss our human rights achievements and challenges,” he appealed.

Mwakasungura also condemned the recent attacks on women who were stripped their trousers, miniskirts and leggings by the unemployed youth and street vendors.

“This is not only a highest level of violence against women but also a violation of our laws as Malawi constitution guarantees freedom of dressing,” he said.

Mutharika last December mounted an extraordinary defence of his human rights record, saying his government generally respect rights of its citizens.

The President said “there are no political prisoners or prisoners of conscious in Malawi jails” and that there have been no political assassinations in the country since 2004 when he took over power.

Apparently there has been political assassination notably the university student pro-democracy activist Robert Chasowa in 2011.

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