Urgent Statement for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Malawi

Salc : Amanda Shivamba

The undersigned organisations are deeply concerned with the recent threats made against Human Rights Defenders (HRD’s) in Malawi. Given the current post-election political instability in Malawi, we call on the Malawi Government to ensure the safety and protection of all HRDs and in particular to probe the death threats made against Mr Timothy Mtambo, Chairperson of the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC).

Malawi held general elections in May 2019 that produced results that have been widely contested and have resulted in a nationwide uproar. There have been ongoing demonstrations and protests taking place within the country, due to citizens demanding accountability for the manner in which the recent election process was managed. Opposition parties have contested the elections and raised issues with regards to the glaring irregularities to the numbers on many vote count sheets, alleging that they were altered using correction fluid. The HRDC and other civil society groups have called on the authorities to account for the controversial way in which the elections were conducted and in doing so, the HRDC made public statements affirming that it would be holding ongoing weekly demonstrations in order to make a public call for the Chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Commission, Jane Ansah, to resign.

Amidst the ongoing demonstrations, the leadership of the Malawi HRDC, including Mr Mtambo, have advised of having received death threats directed at themselves and their families as a result of his participation in convening the aforementioned demonstrations. It is unknown precisely where these threats emanate from but they are cause for concern.  Especially in light of the fact that there have been previous attacks on Mr Mtambo’s safety and person in the past.

We also highlight the fact that Malawi is party to several international human rights instruments that obligate it to protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. These include; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. Moreover, the rights to association and assembly are values which are stipulated in the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights Guidelines. Furthermore, The Declaration on Human rights Defenders unequivocally states that HRD’s have the right to effective protection under national law in reacting against or opposing, through peaceful means, acts or omissions attributable to the State that result in violations of human rights. In addition the declaration imposes a duty on States to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of everyone against any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights. Furthermore, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights refers to freedom of opinion and speech, the right of peaceful assembly and association and the right to an established social and international order in which these rights and freedoms are fully effective.

We condemn in the strongest terms any threats to the safety of HRD’s on account of their human rights work and call on the international community to closely monitor the situation in Malawi with respect to the vulnerability and protection of HRD’s. We further call on the Government of Malawi to respect their international obligations and commit to ensuring that HRDs are able to operate in safety.

Endorsed By the Following Organisations:

  1. AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa
  2. National LGBTI Consortium Zambia 
  3. Southern Africa Network Against Corruption
  4. The Transformation Resource Centre
  5. Coalition for the Empowerment of Women and Girls
  6. Human Rights Institute of South Africa
  7. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
  8. Kawelo Lawyers
  9. Accountability International
  10. Democratic Governance and Rights Unit, Faculty of Law
  11. Litigation Centre for Strategic Litigation
  12. Nyasa Rainbow Alliance
  13. Female Sex Workers Association  
  14. Disability Rights Watch
  15. LBQR Swaziland
  16. Youth And Society
  17. People’s Matrix Association, Lesotho
  18. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
  19. Centre for Environmental Rights
  20. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
  21. DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights
  22. Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance
  23. Embrace Africa Alliance
  24. Droits Humains Sans Frontières
  25. Chapter One Foundation
  26. West African Human Rights Defenders Network 
  27. African Defenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  28. CIVICUS