Section 153 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi 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 outlined 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. Another recent case where the Court found a police officer liable for sexual and gender-based violence was that of The Republic v Andrew Chagaga Criminal Case No. 946 of 2020 where a police officer arrested a girl aged 17 years for the offence of idle and disorderly and raped her twice whilst in police custody. Judge Chima, who sent the culprit to 30 years imprisonment in January 2022, stated that a police officer is someone who has been entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the citizenry and that the police officer, in that case, had instead chosen to violate the very rights of the victim that he was meant to protect.
In the Magistrate’s Court
The victim, in this case, is a 14-year-old girl who in May 2021, was abducted by a senior police officer from Blantyre to Lilongwe where he slept with her.
The trial against the officer was set to commence on 9 August 2021 but due to logistical issues in the Lilongwe Magistrate Court, commenced on 18 May 2022. The police officer was charged with defilement, child abduction, and child trafficking, and the first witnesses for the prosecution (that is, the girl and her mother) were paraded in Court.
The case was subsequently adjourned to 16 June 2022 for its next hearing.
The case was prosecuted by Chikondi Chijozi from SALC, Ruth Kaima from CHREAA, and lawyers from the Malawi Directorate of Public Prosecutions.
A positive judgment in the case was received in August 2022. The WLA, SALC and CHREAA engaged in advocacy to ensure the establishment of an independent police complaints body. In October 2022, the organisation met the newly appointed Independent Complaints Commissioner to discuss the conduct of police officers.