Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), inflicts harm on women and girls and is a severe violation of bodily integrity and autonomy, especially when perpetrated by persons in positions of authority, such as Police officers. As we commemorate the Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women and embark on 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, we remember and show sentiment towards many women and young girls who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence at the hands of some members of the police in Malawi.
Reports of police officers sexually assaulting suspects in their custody brings home the gravity and currency of violence affecting women in Malawi. The recent conviction in the High Court of a male police officer who was accused of raping a 17 year old girl detained for a petty offence, and the case of 18 women and girls from Msundwe, M’bwatalika and Mpingu who were reportedly sexually assaulted by police officers who had been sent to quell unrest in the areas are cases in point.
Section 153 of the Malawi Constitution and Section 4 of the Malawi Police Services Act provide that the Malawi Police Services mandate is to provide protection and maintenance of public safety and the rights of persons in Malawi according to the prescription of human rights outlines in the Constitution and International human rights standards. However, the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence against women and children has not significantly reduced and the use of rape by police officers continues to be reported. The judgment by High Court Judge Nyirenda in the Msundwe case, according to the former Malawi Ombudsman, Martha Chizuma, therefore remains “one of the greatest rebukes to sexual assault against women and impunity by some police officers in Malawi” and should be used as a precedent for would-be offenders. In that case the court found that the state was liable for the violations by the police officers and ordered the payment of damages, as well as fresh investigations and the establishment of an Independent Complaints Commission.
While there is evidence that senior officials in the Malawi Police Services publicly condemn such misconduct, some of their subordinates continue to inflict SGBV on women and girls. This is evidenced by the continued reports and court cases involving abuse by the police. It is clear that more has to be done to ensure that there are deterrent measures against SGVB by the police and justice for survivors.
We therefore call upon the Malawian government to:
- Strengthen national response mechanisms such as the Independent Police Complaints Commission to sexual and gender-based violence and make them widely known in order to effectively enable victims to seek and obtain help.
- Strengthen protection of victims and diminish impunity of police officers as a deterrent.
- Enhance national intervention strategies by providing adequate budgetary support towards the mechanisms meant to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
By Luntha Chimbwete, SALC Research Assistant