‘Demos not about individuals but issues’ – Malawi Human Rights Commission

The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MRHC), a state body says the 17th January demonstrations were not about an individual or a group of individuals but represented the right step towards the respect for diversity of opinions and free expression which it said is the hallmark of democracy.

The commission said this in a news statement on Monday following the successful demonstrations the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) organised in Mzuzu, Lilongwe and Blantyre cities.

The statement, signed by the commission’s chairperson Sophie Kalinde, said the demonstrations were not about an individual or a group, but the entrenchment of a culture of respect for human rights in Malawi.

“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,”  Kalinde said in a statement.

Kalinde: Demos should be peaceful
Kalinde: Demos right step to democracy

“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,” the MHRC Chairperson observed.

But MHRC has since warned 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 by providing opportunities for people to raise substantive concerns on issues of public interest and providing meaningful responses to such issues.

Said the chair: “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. It is commendable that the 17th January demonstrations were peaceful.”

In its initial report released on Monday 21st January, MHRC hailed the demonstrations saying they were about the larger picture which is the entrenchment of a culture of respect for human rights in Malawi.

“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,” Kalinde said.

Kalinde hailed the Malawi Police Service “for operating within the ambit of the law, not using excessive force and showing great restraint.”

The Commission  said it is finalizing its comprehensive report on the demonstrations and will share with all relevant stakeholders once finished.

MHRC 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 the same. The Commission monitored and investigated cases arising from the July 20, 2011 demonstrations where it 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 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).

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