Kapito asks MHRC to be lamp as he bows out

Outgoing chairperson of the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) John Kapito has called upon staff of the state rights body to be a lamp to the nation, saying Malawians will need the Commission’s guidance on human rights at all times.

He was speaking on Wednesday in Lilongwe at the start of the week’s long training for staff on international human rights law based on the thematic approach the Commission adopted in its 2011-2015 Strategic Plan.

The training is being facilitated by Jane Gordon, Barrister at Law, from Scotland through the joint partnership on capacity building MHRC has with the Scottish Government.

Kapito(red tie in centre) with staff and Jane Gordon (Scot)

“I want to ask you to continue being a lamp for this nation; Malawians will need light from you, I ask you to fight for human rights of all people without fear,” said Kapito, known in the human rights activism as a fearless rights defender.

“Yes, we might have made mistakes during our time, but as a Commission you should build on the good things we did so that there is continuity from where we have left,” he advised.

His tenure together with other Commissioners: Mrs Sophie Kalinde, Desmond Kaunda, Marshal Chilenga, Rev Dr Zacc Kawalala and Veronica Sembereka expired on 23rd May after a three-year term. Commissioner Shenard  Mazengera resigned late last year because he was joining charity organisation, Oxfam, UK’s office and could not combine as Commissioner.

Kapito further asked the MHRC to restrategise on human rights aprroach now that the new President, Joyce Banda, has promised to respect, promote and protect human rights, adding if not careful the state-funded body could become resource-constrained as donors may not have interest in its operations due to government’s willingness to respect human rights.

“The new President has said she will respect human rights. What it means is that you need to engage an extra gear because donors will be channelling resources to Government’s key areas on human rights. Donors may not have any reason to be channelling resources in a Commission when the Government is doing well in human rights,” said Kapito.

There is a general belief in the human rights arena that the promotion and protection of human rights become meaningful when the state is the biggest abuser of rights as was the case during the last two years of the Bingu wa Mutharika’s regime.

Kapito himself was called names on state media by government operatives for criticising the Government’s worst record on human rights then. But fearless Kapito upped the efforts and threatened to report the DPP regime to UN’s office for Human Rights in Geneva.

He was arrested for a trumped-up charge of illegally possessing foreign currency but police quickly withdrew the case after investigations revealed that Kapito followed all legal procedures to procure foreign currency from Standard Bank of Malawi.

At one of the meetings with late president Mutharika, Kapito was accused of attempting to overthrow the government then, a charge he denied and told the president in the face that “I tell you the truth but your advisors tell you lies through the teeth.”

Kapito has served as Commissioner for six years and leaves at the time the Commission has done commendable work in investigations such as the July 20 demonstrations killings where 20 protesters were killed by police.

Under Kapito, the Commission also investigated and taken to court an inquest case for late Robert Chasowa who is believed to have been killed by regime thugs on campus at the Polytechnic in Blantyre. The MHRC also challenged the president for closing the Malawi Electoral Commission then, arguing this was a violation of political rights.

Kapito will continue as executive director of the Consumer Association of Malawi where he was picked to become MHRC Commissioner in 2006.

Kapito(red tie in centre) with staff and Jane Gordon (Scot)

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