Malawi Human Rights Commission calls for decisive leadership: Decries worsening violations of economic, social and cultural rights

The taxpayer-funded Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has observed with “great concern” the worsening violations of economic, social and cultural rights in 2020 amidst Covid-19 and has called for decisive leadership if Malawi is to recover better from virus pandemic shock.

MHRC news conference
MHRC news conference

The remarks were made by MHRC Commissioner responsible for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights  Boniface Massa during a news conference organised by MHRC in Mzuzu on the eve of International Human Rights Day commemorations which will be held on 10 December in Rumphi – an event to be graced by Malawi Vice President Dr. Saulos Chilima

Taking his turn to share the Commission’s observations, Commissioner Massa said “Covid-19 had more drastic impact on the people’s enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights particularly in relation to right to education, health, food, employment and economic activity, and said Covid-19 succeeded in aggravating the already poor state of economic, social and cultural rights in Malawi”.

Massa said aggravated the already poor state of economic, social and cultural rights in Malawi, the indefinite closure of schools meant that learners were denied their right to education ; some teachers and workers in private sector lost their jobs, or received reduced pay and with others going for months without pay; and that there were increased cases of teenage pregnancies and child marriages.

“While the introduction of ‘continuity education’ using technology (online and radio learning) was a welcome idea, it also contributed a lot in widening the education inequalities as the majority of learners from poor economic backgrounds could not access internet or access tablets. This meant the large population of learners were being left behind”, said Massa

He, however, commended the Ministry of Education for being bold in safe reopening of schools under phased approach but appealed to government not to relax by ensuring that Covid-19 measures and guidelines are not abandoned but adhered to.

Massa further observed “there was a largely higher focus by hospitals on Covid-19 which was sometimes done at the expense of hospitals providing other services.”

“Government must ensure that attention is also provided to other critical diseases like HIV and AIDs, TB, Malaria, among others,” added Massa

Another MHRC Commissioner responsible for disability, child and elderly rights Scalder Louis faulted government for failure to implement the social protection programme during Covid-19 to bail out persons with disabilities who were drastically affected by Covid-19 with some losing their source of income such as businesses and others.

Said Commissioner Louis: “The government has not yet implemented the social protection programme to bail out persons with disabilities and the elderly from acute poverty and total destitution. It has been pointed out that no person with disability has received Social Cash Transfer during the period of COVID-19 pandemic to bridge the gap created by the disease and its preventive measures.”

MHRC director of economic, social and cultural rights Makhumbo Munthali concurred with Louis by stating that government had no excuse of not implementing the social protection program targeting such vulnerable groups like persons with disability arguing that the continued failure to do so was a clear violation of the Constitution and the international Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights.

“As we are all aware, both the Constitution and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires states to take steps to the maximum of their available resources to achieve progressively the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights especially the vulnerable groups.

“Even in the context of Covid-19 the State was supposed to take immediate measures to mitigate the economic impact of Covid-19 by amongst other things establishing and implementing supplementary social security and income protection programmes. It’s sad to note that this has not been done to-date,” said Munthali.

MHRC Executive Secretary Habiba Osman said that despite the gains and challenges during the Covid-19 period there were a number of lessons that Malawi could take forward from this crisis in as far as human rights is concerned.

“Firstly, we have learnt that a holistic human rights-based approach must be at the centre of every response to any current and future pandemics in order to ensure that no one is left behind. Secondly, we have also learnt that our public.

“Secondly, we have also learnt on the need to prioritise the fixing of our ailing public health service delivery system This includes addressing the public sector reforms that touch on public health system but with a rights-based lens,” said Osman.

Taking his turn, MHRC Chairperson Rev. Patrick Semphere commended the Tonse government for coming up with a National Action Plan against rape and defilement but appealed for “adequate funding” for the action plan and strong political will to drive the crusade against rape and gender-based violence.

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