Statement: Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network condemns the violent attacks at the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation in Malawi

> Freedom of Expression programme, Rule of Law, Human Rights > Malawi, Regional
Salc : Staff Writer

The SAHRDN has today demanded that the Malawian Police and relevant government authorities urgently and openly investigate the violence, assault and threats against the staff of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The call follows the events of the evening of 30 August 2018, where a gang of five unidentified persons with “pangas” and dangerous weapons carried out a protracted attack at the offices of the CHRR. Initially, the gang attacked a guard who was on duty at the CHRR and left him severely injured with two broken front teeth and a swollen face. Later the suspects ignited a petrol bomb outside the offices of the CHRR, which resulted in a fire at the offices. The security guard is currently receiving medical treatment.

“We strongly condemn the attacks at the offices of the CHRR, in the capital Lilongwe, Malawi, which resulted in a security guard being severely injured” said Arnold Tsunga Africa Director at the International Commission of Jurists and Chairperson of SAHRDN. “The HRDs associated with the CHRR have recently raised alarm with the SAHRDN that they are receiving threats from the ruling party for demanding accountability from public officials. There is therefore a strong suspicion that this recent attack and the previous threats are closely linked” he added.

In particular, the attackers appear to be targeting Timothy Mtambo, the CHRR Executive Director, who is also Chairperson of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition of Malawi and Vice Chairperson of the SAHRDN.

“We are concerned and distressed by the reports we have received which are that the attackers were demanding that the guard give them directions to the residence of Timothy Mtambo.” said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, Executive Director at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and board member of the SAHRDN.

The SAHRDN strongly condemns the persecution of staff of the CHRR. Such attacks besides being unlawful, also violate the rights to life, security and liberties of every person which are fundamentally guaranteed by the Constitution of Malawi, as well as international human rights law.

Such persecution of HRDs also violates the fundamental values shared by all members of the international community and encapsulated in the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms commonly referred to as the Declaration on human rights defenders.

The SAHRDN reminds the Malawi authorities of the duty they have to protect HRDS and calls on the police and relevant authorities to take all measures to protect the CHRR and other HRDs to ensure that such violent attacks, threats and violations of rights and liberties of HRDs will not recur.

ABOUT THE SAHRDN

The Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) is a sub-regional Network consisting of representatives of Civil Society Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations from Southern African countries, with the objectives to coordinate regional efforts to strengthen the protection and security of Human Rights Defenders (HRDS) and enhance their ability to carry on with their work in their particular countries in the face of state repression. The SAHRDN recognises and embraces the UN Declaration on HRDs that identifies HRDs as people who, individually or with others, peacefully act to promote or protect human rights. With a vision of safe and secure environment for HRDs in Southern Africa and a mission to enhance protective and safety mechanisms of HRDs in the region, the SAHRDN also recognises the legitimacy of human rights activities and the need to protect such activities and those who carry them out.

The SAHRDN protects HRDs through any of the following interventions: Fact Finding Missions; Legal support/Communications/Litigation at national and supra-national spheres; Urgent appeals; Campaigns; Evacuations; Medical support; Psychosocial support; relocation to Ubuntu Safe cities/human rights hubs.

The SAHRDN builds the capacity of HRDs through any of the following activities: Training on Risk Management; Security Enhancement Digital/Institutional/Physical; Regional/international human rights systems; and Communications and Complaints Procedures.

The research and advocacy programme of the SAHRDN undertakes research on the situation of HRDs in the Southern African Region, in the face of state and non-state-driven repression to facilitate evidence driven advocacy initiatives to protect HRDs at the national and international level.