For almost a month, there was a break in anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations which are organised by the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC). This is because the HRDC leaders went abroad to attend to other duties. This week, the HRDC leaders returned from their international trip and STEVEN PEMBAMOYO caught up with Gift Trapence HRDC vice chairperson on arrival to find out more. Excerpt:
Welcome back home. But while you were away, some people have been speculating that you ran away from hostilities following attacks on HRDC personalities and property. Where have you been?
We went to attend the 61st African Commission in Banjul Gambia where we presented the state of human rights in Malawi. The annual meeting provides an opportunity for the civil society organisations community in Malawi and all over the continent to update the African Commission and member states on the state of human rights. It is an important event and mechanism attended by different African countries including the civil society.
What key human rights issues did you raise at the meeting?
The international community is aware of the human rights status of Malawi. It is important to give the international community reports that are reflecting the actual reality on the ground in terms of the state of human rights. In particular the international community was updated on the issue of women who were attacked and raped at Msundwe in Lilongwe. We also briefed them on the attacks on human rights defenders in the country. If you recall, my colleague Billy Mayaya was attacked and hacked by some people. There was a shooting at the house of Rev McDonald Sembereka, and also the shooting of the vehicle of our chairperson, Timothy Mtambo. All these incidents border on human rights violations.
So it’s not true that you retreated and ran away from Malawi?
Not at all. HRDC will never retreat and we have not. It was important to attend these International spaces because we saw that some individuals were feeding wrong information to the international community regarding what is happening in Malawi.
You are saying HRDC thought it wise to abandon protesters to attend an African Commission conference. Does that sit well with you? Is that not betrayal of protesters?
It was necessary to correct misinformation about what was happening in Malawi. Malawians will see more of HRDC. We want to fight many undemocratic tendencies. Malawi is under serious attack on corruption at all levels. If HRDC is to change things we need to push more and Malawians should expect more demonstrations from anti-Jane Ansah to fight against high-level corruption.
You left the country when protests to force Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah to resign were at a climax, what is the way forward now that your team has returned?
The call for Jane Ansah to resign is still there. Actually there are more demonstrations being planned. Malawians should expect more demonstrations and we have seen many Malawians calling us to announce dates for more demonstrations.
It is important to note that beyond resignation of Jane Ansah Malawians want reforms that will make operations of MEC independent and our democracy work. Malawians want electoral reforms including the 50+1 to be brought back to Parliament. If this will not happen, HRDC will push for more demonstrations with the aim of the passing of electoral bills in Parliament.
President Peter Mutharika sometimes hardly mentions HRDC when it comes to protests. In both his interview with Al Jazeera and in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly (Unga), he blamed the opposition for all the protests taking place in the country. How do you feel to be bundled with the opposition?
The President was just being political and his party has always used propaganda to discredit the work of real civil society in Malawi no wonder his party has tried to introduce draconian laws with the aim of shrinking the civic space.
The fact of the matter is that post election demonstrations in this country have been organised by HRDC. No any political party has been involved. HRDC is an independent institution and non-partisan and will always be pro-Malawians. No one apart from Malawians will dictate the operations of HRDC.