Undule D. K. Mwakasungura (CHRR), Malawi: +265 1 75 64 17; email@example.com
Gift Trapence (CEDEP), Switzerland: +44 793 700 4203; firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Stern (IGLHRC), Switzerland: +44 793 700 4203; email@example.com
Roberta Sklar (IGLHRC), USA +1 917-704-6358; firstname.lastname@example.org
(Geneva, October 25, 2011) -- As the United Nations Human Rights Committee meets for its 103rd session, the Government of Malawi has refused to submit a written report on its human rights record. Despite its refusal, on October 25th, the Committee will review its record with a government delegation traveling from Malawi headed by the Attorney General. In the absence of a state report, the Committee will consider information submitted by non-governmental organizations including the Centre of Development of People (CEDEP), the Centre of Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). Their report NGO Shadow Report on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights documents Malawi's grave and deteriorating human rights situation.
According to the groups, the most serious rights violator in Malawi is President Bingu Wa Mutharika. His administration acknowledges, encourages and organises the intimidation and unlawful killing of individuals or groups that challenge the regime. He has incited his followers to take to the streets with arms, allowed the police to beat and kill members of the opposition, crushed media dissent, and broken up peaceful assemblies with deadly force. President Mutharika’s regime ignores the authority of the national courts system, incites prejudice and hatred of vulnerable minorities including lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and relegates women to the status of second-class citizens.
Despite President Mutharika's on-going attacks on members of civil society and on the media, human rights organizations in Malawi including CEDEP and CHRR continue to work towards exposing human rights violations committed by the State. The human rights activists heading CEDEP and CHRR have faced death threats because of their work.
The shadow report highlights human rights violations committed by the State of Malawi. For instance:
- On 20th and 21st July 2011, the Malawi security forces killed eighteen unarmed individuals who were attempting to exercise their right to peacefully assemble in opposition to the government.
- There have been complaints of torture in numerous police stations across Malawi. While NGOs and lawyers periodically access and monitor detention facilities, they are powerless to influence the treatment of the individuals incarcerated.
- The President’s Administration attempts to distract attention from its failure to respect the rule of law by blaming vulnerable groups, including LGBT people.
- There is a sustained attack on press freedom in Malawi. During the 19th and 20th of July 2011 demonstrations, a total of twenty-two journalists were beaten and assaulted by the Malawi Police Service.
Two journalists were arrested and spent several days in custody. Most journalists had their cameras confiscated, broken and their writing materials thrown away. One photo-journalist was hospitalised for seven days because of the serious head injuries he suffered as a result
The NGO shadow report offers eighteen recommendations for actions that should be taken to bring the State of Malawi in compliance with its treaty obligations. Those recommendations include the right to peaceful assembly, the right to fair trial, the right to free speech, the need to decriminalize homosexuality, the need to equalize rights for men and women, and the need to conduct immediate and impartial investigations into the July 2011 attacks on civilians and journalists that hold state violators accountable to the fullest extent of the law.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is an international treaty that outlines a set of fundamental rights guaranteed to all individuals regardless of race, color, sex, language, religion, opinion, nation, property, birth or other status. The ICCPR was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966 and entered into force in 1976. So far, 166 states, including the Government of Malawi, are parties to the Covenant. The Human Rights Committee is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the treaty by States Parties. Additionally, the 18-member committee also has the authority to interpret the treaty through issuing general comments.
The ICCPR requires all state parties to submit periodic reports about the implementation of the treaty’s principles. Based on the state reports and information gathered by Committee experts, the Committee will develop a list of questions (List of Issues) regarding the status of civil and political rights in that country. State Parties often provide written response to those questions ahead of the official review session of the state’s compliance with the ICCPR.
The Committee accepts reports from civil society groups regarding the human rights situation in that country. These reports submitted by NGO are known as shadow reports.
Based on the State report, the State written answer to the List of Issues, the shadow reports, the State presentation to the Committee, and the interactive dialogue between State and Committee, the Committee concludes its review of the State’s compliance with its treaty obligations with a list of concerns and recommendations for the State in a Concluding Observations document. The State is expected to formally acknowledge which of the Committee recommendations and concerns it will abide by. The Committee recommendations and the State response are powerful tools for domestic advocates seeking to advance human rights and governmental accountability.