Taxpayer-funded Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) must move with haste and institute a probe into alleged private company sponsored torture and gross abuse of human rights which has continued unabated since 2015 at the 53,000-hectare man-made Viphya forest plantation in northern Malawi.
Anecdotal evidence, several sources and a company official have all confirmed the development by fingering the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) as the sole perpetrator courtesy of the largesse and freebees of Raiply Malawi Limited.
“There is no justification for the government to indulge into sexual assaults, violence, robberies, torture and brutal killings of its own citizens in the pretext of protecting the environment. We are of the view that no level of senseless violence will resolve the challenges facing our forests today,” Executive Director Youth and Society Charles Kajoloweka told Nyasa Times.
He then implored the MHRC to hold MDF accountable or exonerate it if evidence on the ground points the other way.
Sources said Raiply Malawi Limited, a subsidiary of a foreign owned timber processing companyheadquartered in Kenya, is still providing both material and financial support to the MDF to secure its 20,000-hectare concessionaire to ward off illegal lumberjacks.
“The question we have is: Is MDF on private hire by Raiply to guard its concession area which is reported to be under incursion by some unscrupulous Lumberjack? The government should make public the terms of reference on MDF’s involvement in the Viphya Plantation Forest,” says Kajoloweka.
In August 2015, the Malawi government found a better use of its largely ‘idle’ Soldiers.
It tasked the MDF to salvage the remnants of the 53,000-hectare man-made Plantation by driving out illegal Lumberjacks who also owed the cash strapped government about $1.2 million in unpaid fees.
President of the Timber Millers Cooperative Union Paul Nthambazale has repeatedly complained publicly that the MDF is treating his membership like dogs and not citizens of Malawi.
“What I know is that after Raiply Malawi Limited failed to steal timber from our plots, they hired the army to harass us. The thing is Raiply does know the boundary where they have to stop harvesting their timber,” he told NyasaTimes.
Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources Chairperson WeraniChilengaalso backed the government’s move to put in the MDF saying the will also assist it to recover what it is owed.
Company sources told NyasaTimes that Raiply is doling out millions in form of fuel for army trucks and food for MDF service men and women.
Raiply Chief Executive Officer Thomas Oommen could not be reached for comment as his phone repeatedly said he was out of reached.
However, several media reports which NyasaTimes accessed, have quoted him as saying that the deployment of the MDF was not his company’s responsibility.
On several occasions, NyasaTimes has seen Soldiers being ferried in Raiply vehicles on dispatch for duties. The company’s vehicles are conspicuous because they are emblazoned with the company’s names in red or white paint.
Since the deployment of the MDF into the Viphya Plantation, a former shadow of itself with less 5 per cent cover, the MDF has mainly concentrated in patrolling the Raiply area and reports of grave systematic human abuse have emerged since the MDF is known for implementing instant justice.
“Soldiers… are primarily trained to fight wars and not to deal with civilian indiscretions unless there are special circumstances demanding such overhanded action,” said a prominent Human Rights Activist this week, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals from the MDF.
MDF spokesperson Captain Paul Chiphwanya did not respond in inquiries for comment or clarification for more than one week.
In his state of the nation address President Peter Mutharika reiterated that effective and efficient management of natural resources and the environment is key to the country’s socioeconomic development adding that he is concerned with the colossal damage to the environment whose economic costs have been massive.
“In 2015/2016 financial year, Government will continue to implement programmes that would promote efficient and effective management of natural resources and environment,” Mutharika said.
The government then publicly warned that in collaboration with its security apparatus it would carry out an extensive exercise to curtail the illegal selling, possession and trafficking of charcoal, wood and other forest produce within Malawi.
It also sternly warned that it would not be held liable for any claims arising from damages, losses or injuries that would be occasioned through the implementation of the exercise.
In 2015/16 fiscal year, the government also nullified a 15-year concession agreement with the Timber Millers Cooperative Union (TMCU), which represents the Lumberjacks, saying it had breached the agreement, which came into force in 2012, by wiping out the 10,000 hectares allotted to them within two years.
The government argued that TMCU never paid royalties, did not replant, prune, weed or make fire breaks.
TMCU is tried in vain to get a Court order to stop the government from implementing its decision saying there were issues to be solved before they vacate from the plantation.
TMCU Nthambazale blamed the Malawi government for favoring foreign concessionaires at the expense of locals.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :