The undersigned organisations condemn the sweeping exercises which were conducted by the Malawi Police Service, the Malawi Defence Force and the Immigration Department on 12 and 13 September 2014.
The Police Service, the Defence Force and Immigration authorities are bound by the Constitution of Malawi. No person or entity (be it the Police, Defence Force, Prison Service or Immigration) is above the law and respect for human rights is imperative.
Arresting persons without prior investigation or proof of an offence having been committed constitute a violation of their constitutional rights, including the right to human dignity; the right to freedom of movement; the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and the right to freedom and security of person. For this reason, arrests should comply with legal requirements, should be utilised sparingly and should be supervised to ensure compliance with constitutional requirements. What we witnessed during the recent sweeping exercises is the opposite – unlawful, arbitrary arrests with scant regard for constitutional rights and the requirements of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code.
Whilst crime is rampant in Malawi there are better means of curbing crime than violating people’s rights. The Malawi Police Service should develop a sustainable crime prevention strategy which is based on constitutional, regional and international best practices and addresses the underlying causes of crime. To be effective, crime prevention requires a thorough understanding of a local crime problem, where and when it occurs, who is committing it and who is affected by it. The current strategy of combined sweeping exercises is ill considered and the manner in which it was conducted is a total violation of human rights. Such arrests are likely to lower police (and government) legitimacy, both for the arrested person and their family and friends. The challenge is to develop a strategy which is based on community policing practices, respects human rights and treats people with dignity.
We call on the government of Malawi to immediately issue a directive to all police stations, prosecutors and magistrates courts to:
- Stop the use of sweeping exercises in an indiscriminate manner;
• Ensure that all arrests take place with due consideration of the constitutional rights of arrested and accused persons;
• Ensure that no persons are brought before courts in a manner where they are forced to plead guilty to an offence where all the requirements of the offence are not present;
• Ensure that persons are not jointly charged for offences which took place at different times and places;
• Ensure that children are not arrested and transported with adults;
• Ensure that persons are not targeted for arrest based on social status or stigma.
• Ensure that all police operations are properly monitored and supervised to ensure compliance with the Constitution of Malawi.
For further information contact Chikondi Ngwira, Programs Manager, Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA), Tel: 0888647847.
Endorsed by: Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA), Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), Child Rights Advocacy and Paralegal Aid Centre (CRAPAC), Youth Watch Society (YOWSO), Southern Africa Litigation Centre.