Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for Development of the People (CEDEP) have expressed concerns over reports that the Association for Secular Humanists (Ash), an anti-God secular non-government organisation popularly known for the advocacy against witchcraft based violence, has been facing discrimination and resistance from some quarters in both government and the civil society by being denied registration.
The rights groups noted that the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Information and the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) have been in the forefront, taking turns at sidelining Ash.
“We are reliably informed that the then Minister of Justice Henry Phoya rebuffed Ash’s application for registration under the Trustees and Incorporation Act twice, arguing it was against the minister’s religious beliefs. As if that is not enough, the Minister of Information Moses Kunkuyu is reported to have thrown his weight behind Phoya’s decision, congratulating him for following his professed ‘strong’ religious conviction against the registration of the group,” reads a statement from CEDEP and CHRR.
“To make matters even worse, Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), a grouping of over 90 civil society organizations promoting, protecting and safeguarding human rights in the country, is also reported to have followed suit in this undemocratic path in the process contradicting its very core foundations and pillars. Media reports indicate that the previous head of the institution is said to have told his staff that he could not recommend Ash to be a member of HRCC as doing so would contradict his ‘strong’religious convictions,” partly reads the statement.
The statement adds: “ Without spewing umbrage at somebody’s staunch religious beliefs, we at CHRR and CEDEP find it baffling that some officials have chosen to drag their beliefs into matters of the State, nay Constitution of the Republic of Malawi.
“We do not need to keep reminding each other that top government officials, Cabinet ministers inclusive, do take an oath of office to solemnly protect and stand by the principles of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi in their execution of duties. “
The groups said Phoya and Kunkuyu took an oath to go by what the principles and spirit of the country’s Constitution, a secular document, dictates.
“We at CHRR and CEDEP, thus, find it unfortunate and uncalled for the two politicians to cite strong religious principles and beliefs as enough grounds for rejecting Ash application. As a country, we will always have problems if the officials entrusted with the duty to serve the general public with diverse religious, cultural, political and ethnic beliefs let their personal views and attitudes determine their service delivery. Being as accommodative as possible towards everyone regardless of their beliefs is the only way we as a country can make our Constitution relevant to everyone in a Malawi’s plural society”.
The two organisations also pointed out that the Bill of Rights of the Republican Constitution in Sections 20 (1) 32, 33 and 34 clearly guarantees every citizen’s right and freedom to conscience, religion and thought.
Say the two groups: “Specifically we site section 33 of the same Republican Constitution which says: “Every person has the right to freedom of conscience, religion and thought…””
“It is from this premise that we at CHRR and CEDEP find the conduct by the former Minister of Justice, the current Minister of Information and HRCC as unconstitutional and a blatant violation of human rights of officials behind Ash rights. Public officials should be the last people to spoil the innocence of the Constitution with their personal beliefs and principles towards certain issues. Otherwise we should refrain from joining positions that can make us override our Constitution because of our beliefs.
“It’s high time the government and HRRCC did some soul searching to see if their treatment of Ash is fair, democratic or constitutional, and then accept the registration of the institution. Let the supremacy of our Constitution reign over all matters in the general interest of Malawians irrespective of their political, religious, sexual or economic divide. Let’s make unity in diversity possible.”
ASH is headed by Dr George Thindwa an economist.
His group recently areceived $600,000 from the government of Norway to help eradicate sorcery.
The funds would be used to conduct a three-year nationwide drive to educate people against the dangers of witchcraft.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :