Malawi groups trash referendum call on homosexuality: Stop homophobia!

Two prominent Malawi human rights organisations have described the call by the former governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that government should call for a national referendum to solicit views of Malawians on the issue of scrapping laws against homosexuality as “retrogressive”.

DPP’s recently issued a statement after rock superstar Sir Elton John hailed President Joyce Banda for taking strides to embrace HIV positive persons and sexual minorities, including homosexuals.

The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) said in a statement that the DPP referendum call is misguided, misinformed and also retrogressive.

“Malawians are yet to forget how the DPP-led government manipulated the issue of sexual minorities to justify their maladministration which led to acute fuel shortages, drugs’ scarcity in our hospitals, persistent scarcity of forex and sugar, punitive tax laws, undemocratic laws and policies, dented international relations, rampant threats and attacks on its critics, and the brutal murdering of 20 innocent Malawians on 20th July, 2011,” the statement from CHRR and CEDEP reads.

Programs Manager for Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), a Malawian NGO working on sexual health and human rights of minority groups.

“It is clearly evident that the DPP is regrettably using the issue of sexual minorities as a springboard to re-launching its otherwise tattered political image,” the statement signed by Undule Mwakasungura (CHRR boss) and Gift Trapence (Cedep head) said.

The right campaigners asked DPP “to stop throwing politics on the issue of human rights, including sexual minority rights, and appreciate the fact that issues of respect, promotion and protection of human rights of can never be determined at the ballot”.

DPP’s statement came after the current Joyce Banda government was applauded at the recent Aids 2012 Conference in Washington DC.

Clean coscience

Malawi recently announced that it will repeal and review some of the laws that criminalise homosexuality.

“It is worth appreciating that the PP led government has so far made commendable strides in repealing some of the punitive and undemocratic laws that the DPP pushed down our throats,” noted CHRR and CEDEP in their statement emailed to Nyasa Times.

“Government has since made some commitments to bring to parliament, for debate, laws that discriminate against sexual minorities. Every reasonable individual would appreciate the prevailing contradiction between our penal code and our Republican constitution regarding the sexual minority rights. It is therefore only logical for the DPP to let the due process take its course and debate the issue with clean conscience when it is brought to the chamber,” added the statement.

The rights campaigners argued that the DPP has “no moral ground” to start questioning the positive steps that the PP led government has taken in trying to repeal all the undemocratic laws that it rushed through.

CHRR and CEDEP pointed out that memories are still how the DPP, without any sense of guilt and remorse, passed through parliament draconian laws that included; Section 46  which would have given  minister powers to ban newspapers, Injunctions Bill, the Flag change and Police search without warrant bill.

They commended President Banda led government for repealing some of the draconian laws.

“We encourage government to continue with the good work and through a continuous reversal of any bad laws including the clause in penal code that criminalizes homosexuality in Malawi.”

Human rights

The statement also educated the DPP that States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect protect and fulfill Human Rights.

“The obligation to respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfill means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights. These are the obligations the DPP government totally failed to fulfill. Instead they were busy curtailing and persecuting all those in defence of these fundamental Birth Rights.”

The NGOs also quashed the arguments’ contending that donors are using the issue of minority rights as a bate for financial assistance to Malawi.

“We want to remind the DPP that the British Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell who visited Malawi recently assured the nation that United Kingdom budgetary support and its development aid to Malawi is not attached to conditions of allowing homosexuality in the country. It is therefore lame for the DPP to try to make us believe that Malawi is only being pushed to on issues of sexual minorities,” said the statement.

CHRR and CEDEP said they will not shy away in speaking and defending human rights of everybody regardless of their sexual orientation.

Nonetheless, they agreed with the statement issued by the DPP which reads; “…, gays, lesbians, homosexuals and similar sexual minority groups are, first and foremost, human beings. DPP believes that by virtue of them being human beings, they must have access to equal protection under the law on human rights that are universally agreed as human rights……”

No homophobia

The groups further said they have always called upon Malawians to stop hiding behind religion and culture to alienate sexual minorities.

“Sexual minorities just like everybody have all the rights and freedoms as enshrined in our Republican Constitution and a number of international human rights instruments to which Malawi is a party.

“In the face of HIV and AIDS it is only prudent and logical for Malawi to stop pretending that sexual minorities do not exist or let alone discriminate against them.”

The groups said they subscribe to the bare fact that the first step in consolidating the strides on HIV and AIDs is by embracing sexual minorities and make them an integral stakeholder in the pandemic’s fight.

“In fact, statistics are very clear that HIV prevalence rate is very high in sexual minority groups and it is an undisputable fact that they are our brothers and sisters and whatever affects them affects the general population also. In fact we will be building castles in the air if we think we can achieve Zero prevalence rate of HIV as stipulated by our progressive National HIV and AIDS Policy if we continue to discriminate against sexual minorities by pretending that they do not exist.”

They stressed that in Malawi men who sleep with their fellow men and women who sleep with their fellow women do exist and that they are human beings with rights just like any other person and they must be fully protected by the law.

“In this regard criminalization of people based on their sexual orientation remains an issue that requires a serious attention.  This is really frustrating the country’s endeavor in the fight against HIV pandemic which has really crippled our society.”

They contend that law cannot be used to fight the community of homosexuals.

“If there is a matter to be addressed on homosexuality in Malawi then that should not be within criminal law and criminal sanctions. Criminalization of sexual minority groups is what human rights principles seem not to fit in. Any institution can proceed to address the matter from biblical point of view or cultural point view but not through criminalization.  The state should be accommodative of diversity without taking sides. By maintaining the criminal sanctions, it means the state is taking sides in all this matter.”


The issue of gay rights in Malawi is emotive, entrenched by a conservative society and religious beliefs. Over two years ago, Malawi was put into world spotlight by the arrest and trial of a gay couple—Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza.

The two, who were sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, were pardoned after international community  exerted pressure on the government and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon jetted into the country to plead their case.

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