Malawi groups say religion, culture should not be used to punish gays: Move to fight HIV/Aids

Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) have asked Malawians not to use religion and culture to ‘punish’ homosexuals and other sexual minorities.

CHRR Programmes Manager Timothy Mtambo made the call Monday in Mzuzu in his key note address to mark the opening of a two-day workshop for civil society organisations on sexual minority rights organised by the two rights groups.

He said sexual minorities do not receive proper care and treatment as their human right because the law in the Penal Code discriminates them.

“We are talking about HIV and AIDS and the rate of HIV/AIDS prevalence in the sexual minority group is very high, why? We have neglected them and we pretend that they do not exist.

Gay kiss: Malawi gays cannot be arrested, for now

“Go into the National HIV and AIDS Policy, you will see that the policy articulates clearly that we cannot fight the battle of HIV and AIDS while disregarding the sexual minority group.

“We cling to the legislation in the Penal Code yet it…contradicts the twin principles of equality and non-discrimination as highlighted in our constitution,” Mtambo said.

He stressed that discrimination against gay people is perpetrated by religious and cultural beliefs.

“I don’t know if we really understand them [religion and culture] because as a Christian, I believe if Jesus would come today, he would go and embrace those people that the majority of this nation have tortured and discriminated, for so long,” Mtambo said.

He said that there are many examples articulated in the Bible where Jesus Christ demonstrated that he came for such people.

“So, [as] CHRR and CEDEP, we believe that we should not use our personal convictions and beliefs to punish people in the name of the law. If we are Christians, let’s do our job as Christians,” he said.

Mtambo also said it is unfair that the Malawi Nation is reluctant to repeal the Penal Code despite that the sexual minorities are dying in large numbers due to HIV related illnesses.

He explained that an assessment conducted recently by government’s Department of Nutrition revealed alarming results that the status quo of the Penal Code is making the nation fail to reach out to sexual minorities with appropriate care and treatment.

“So, should we continue like this? As a nation, are we benefiting anything by pretending that these people [sexual minorities] do not exist?” he wondered.

Mtambo therefore said it was high time that they, as civil society officials, were in the forefront not to let the Christian or Islamic belief be transferred into the discourse of human rights.

“Human rights are human rights. Every person is entitled to them, and they are universal. Culture and religion are not universal. They are relative. That’s why we have different religions across the nation and across the world, with different beliefs and understanding,” he added.

To that effect, he said the CHRR and the CEDEP are of the view that it is high time the nation realised that the status quo of the law at the moment is doing harm to the nation, especially in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

The human rights defender further ruled out the possibility of human rights being subjected to any form of vote.

“We do not have to vote or debate that, ‘should we grant them the rights?’ No, that question is out of order by itself and it contradicts the spirit of human rights,” he told the CSOs representatives drawn from all districts in Northern Region.

Making his presentation titled ‘Legal and Policy Environment for Sexual Minorities in Malawi’ Lawyer Chrispin Sibande concurred with Mtambo that some provisions in the Penal Code are not in line with the Malawi Constitution.

He cited sections 137, 153 and 156 that criminalise homosexual acts both in public and private.

He said the sections, among other things, collide with the right to privacy provided for in section 21 of the republican constitution which is the supreme law of the land.

Meanwhile, government has suspended laws against same-sex relationships pending a decision whether to repeal them by parliamentarians.

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