Last week, President Lazarus Chakwera had reconciliatory meetings with relatives of fallen exiled minister Henry Masauko Chipembere and other victims of the reign of terror wreaked by the Malawi Congress Party during its 31-years of dictatorship. Could the tour in Mangochi be the beginning of the end of the victims’ unheeded cry for truth and compensation? Our News Analyst SUZGO CHITETE takes the big question to Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) executive director Michael Kaiyatsa. Excerpts:
The one party victims have waited for justice for too long, why do you think government has not really shown interest to help?
To be fair, the current administration has shown some interest to help victims of the one party regime. If you look at the MCP manifesto, the issue of the victims of the one-party system has been mentioned at least two times.
President Chakwera has also said it on numerous occasions that he would use his presidency to right the wrongs of the one party regime and deliver justice to thousands of people who had not received their compensation by the time the National Compensation Tribunal closed down in 2004.
In his first State of the Nation Address delivered to the 49th Session of Parliament on September 4 2020, the President said his government, through the Ministry of Civic Education and National Unity, would establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to facilitate a national healing process and to complete the task left unfinished by the defunct National Compensation Tribunal. All this is a sign that government is committed to resolving this issue.
However, it’s one thing to make a promise and quite another to actually act on it. It remains to be seen whether the President will walk the talk and deliver on his promise to help these people.
Apart from making commitments in their manifestos, the new administration has made fresh pronouncements that give hope to victims of the 31-year dictatorship. Are you optimistic that these people will get what they deserve anytime soon?
We are generally optimistic, but not wildly optimistic. Politicians have a habit of making promises they can’t keep. However, this administration has given us a glimmer of hope. Just before the elections last year, my organisation, CHRR, had asked Chakwera to apologise to Malawians for human rights abuses committed during the one-party era if he won the election. Last week, the President responded to our request by apologising to Malawians for those atrocities. This gives us hope that he will honour his other commitments to victims of the one-party system.
However, we are also aware that not everything that we were promised during the campaign period has happened, so we are cautiously optimistic.
Chakwera indicated during the Sona that the government would establish a truth and reconciliation commission. How necessary is this?
The international standards dealing with serious violations of human rights urge states where massive human rights violations have taken place to acknowledge victims through processes and mechanisms such as truth and reconciliation commissions, among other reparatory measures. So, you can see that the establishment of the commission is in line with international standards.
This commission, we are told, would play the key role of facilitating the national healing process. And as the President said during the Sona, one of the functions of the commission would be to complete the task left unfinished by the defunct National Compensation Tribunal. So its establishment is very necessary, for it is through this commission that victims of the one-party system will access their compensation.
Do you see government tabling a Bill in the current meeting of Parliament to facilitate compensation for the suffers of the atrocities of the one-party victims?
Our hope that this Bill would be tabled in the current sitting of Parliament is slowly fading away, considering the little amount of time left before Parliament rises. My organisation has been closely monitoring the parliamentary schedule and we are disappointed to note that the Bill is not appearing anywhere on the Order Paper. This has sparked fears that the Bill may not be presented to the House in the current meeting, which is very unfortunate as it may further delay the national healing process.