Gays not facing arrests in Malawi, Solicitor General tells UN

Malawi is not arresting people for same-sex acts until the anti-gay laws are reviewed, Secretary for Justice and Solicitor General Janet Chikaya-Banda told the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva on Wednesday.

Banda was formally responding to the committee’s inquiry in the findings of the Law Commission with regard to the review of the Penal Code, in particular sections 137(A), 153, and 156, that criminalise consensual same-sex sexual activity.

UN committee asked Malawi to explain its position on progress to decriminalize homosexuality.

Dr Janet Banda: La enforcers not pursuing gays
Dr Janet Banda: La enforcers not pursuing gays
Lesbian kissing
Lesbian kissing

Secretary for Justice and Solicitor General told committee that the review of laws that criminalise consensual same sex was stalled due to lack of financial resources.

However, Banda told the committee that there was political will to deal with the matter.

Banda said those involved in homosexual acts are not pursued by law enforcers and that a special law commission has not been empanelled to look at the pieces of legislation that criminalise same sex.

Malawi’s government is moving to suspend laws against homosexuality and in 2012 issues a moratorium where it ordered police not to arrest people for same-sex acts until the anti-gay laws are reviewed by parliament.

Anyone convicted under Malawi’s anti-gay laws, some of the toughest in the world, can get up to 14 years in jail with hard labour.

Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) executive director Gift Trapence claimed to the committee that there is growing homophobia in Malawi against homosexuals.

But the report submitted by Banda said : “Malawi has not set up a mechanism to specifically monitor cases of violence based on sexual orientation nor has it set up awareness-raising campaigns on the same.”

It adds: “All cases of violence are handled in the same way regardless of the cause or alleged basis of the violence.”

Taxpayer-funded Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) chairperson Sophie Kalinde told the committee Malawi Government should be commended for opening up the issue of same sex.

Traditionalists and religious leaders in Malawi strongly oppose moves to legalise same-sex acts, arguing  that homosexuality is alien to Malawi’s cultural and religious values.

But Human Rights Watch points out that arresting people for consensual same-sex conduct violates international human rights standards and constitutional guarantees of equality in many countries.

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