Red tape denying justice for Malawian prisoners

Malawi’s prisoners have expressed grave concern that 63 years after the Universal Declaration of Human rights and 16 years after Malawi ratified the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Charter through the enactment of the 1995 Kwacha Conference Centre Republican Constitution, the wheels of justice in the country’s judicial system worryingly continue to drag at a snail’s pace.

The inmates also said that Malawi prisons are congested and have poor living and sanitation conditions. They said they lack legal representation and that sometimes they are duped by unscrupulous lawyers who allegedly collect money from them and their relatives on the pretext of representing their cases..

The prisoners made the remarks on 9th December 2011 during a panel discussion organised by The Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) to mark this year’s World Human Rights Day at Chichiri Prison in Blantyre Malawi.

Station Officer for Chichiri Prison Chisi (back to Camera) explains to DFID 's Kirk Hollingsworth (In Blue Tie) on Prison operation

Delayed justice

The inmates say although there may be some progress, Malawian prisoners are still being denied the right to access due process of the law.

They say their basic civil liberties and human rights continue being denied mainly due to the judicial system’s unnecessary institutional red tape, funding constraints and lack of sense of urgency in delivering justice.

Boxton Kudziwe, a representative of Chichiri Prison inmates notes that Malawi’s Prisons and courts still hold a lot of remandees for a long time without giving them a chance to a reasonably fair and speedy trial. He said this is a form of mental torture.

“It is disturbing that in in some cases, remandees can go through a trial but again they have to be remanded here for up to 24 months without getting a judgement. The question is will the judge or magistrate really make a fair assessment of the facts of the case and evidence 24 months after hearing testimony? This is a miscarriage of justice,” said Kudziwe.

Chichiri Prison for instance, has cases of inmates Charles Scott Lagos (Murder) arrested in 2006. He was tried in early 2010 but has been awaiting judgement for 15 months. Anorher is Mayeso Tayimu (Robbery) has been awaiting judgement for 24 months.

UK support

Kirk Hollingsworth, British High Commission Charge de Affairs, whose  government supports the Disease Screening Program at Chichiri Prison through CHREAA, said at the function that  promotion and  protection of marginalised citizens, including prisoners’, human rights is at the heart of the British government’s mission in Malawi.

He said, under section 42 of the Malawi constitution, prisoners have the right to be detained  under conditions consistent with their human dignity.

The panel discussion brought together prisoners, the assistant registrar of the high court of Malawi, the Police, Malawi Prisons and the Law Society of Malawi. It was aimed at identifying ways of advancing prisoners’ human rights.

Mutharika remarks

In his remarks in a national address on World Human Rights day, President Bingu wa Mutharika said his government has made progress in ensuring human rights for Malawian.

He cited absence of political prisoners and political assassinations as one of the tell tale signs of progress.

Mutharika also said murder convicts have been committed to life imprisonment as opposed to execution.

According to available information, below is a list of some of  Homicide inmates and period of awaiting judgement at Chichiri Prison as at 12/12/11.

CHREAA ‘s probono program is trying to advance some of these cases.

NAME                                                                                           PERIOD                                                 DISTRICT

1.       Charles Lagos Scotch                                                      1 year 6 Months                               Chikwawa

2.       Allan Francis Tebulo Phiri                                              1 year 6 Months                               Chiradzulo

3.       Victoria Phillimon                                                             1 year 6 Months                               Mwanza

4.       Nelson Rheno                                                                   1 year 6 Months                               Chikwawa

5.       Peter Amoni                                                                      1 year 6 Months                               Chikwawa

6.       Yowasi Yesani                                                                    1 year                                                    Chikwawa

7.       Damiano Petro                                                                  1 year                                                    Thyolo

8.       Enock Chipembere                                                          I year                                                     Blantyre

9.       Million Chambakata                                                        1 year                                                    Chikwawa

10.   Twaliki Moses                                                                    1 year                                                    Blantyre

11.   Lucious Byton                                                                    March 2010                                         Chiradzulo

12.   Frank Jeremia                                                                    June 2011                                            Mwanza

13.   Rapheal Chinkono                                                           May  2011                                            Chiradzulo

14.   Clifford Chathyoka                                                          February 2011                                   Chikwawa

15.   John Edwin Tangwe                                                        April 2011                                            Chiradzulo

16.   Kalimon Yakobe                                                               October 2011                                     Chiradzulo

17.   Zondiwe Thomson                                                          June 2011                                            Chikwawa

18.   Wyson Barnet                                                                   March 2011                                         Blantyre

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