Government says the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) report on rape incidents allegedly committed by police officers around Msundwe area in Lilongwe can be challenged.
Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani, who is also government spokesperson, yesterday said although he needed time to analyse the report, government’s view was that any action by MHRC was subject to scrutiny because the institution does not have commissioners to carry out such a task.
“It must be understood that, currently, we do not have commissioners at MHRC as there is a standing injunction which was obtained by the HRDC [Human Rights Defenders Coalition] stopping the swearing-in of the people that were appointed to be commissioners,” he said.
Botomani said it was against this background that government feels any action taken by the human rights watchdog in the absence of a fully-fledged commission will have to be subjected to scrutiny by State institutions such as the courts.
However, the minister further said the Ombudsman Martha Chizuma and the Law Commissioner Rosemary Kanyuka, who conducted the investigation and released the report in Lilongwe last Wednesday, were only acting as MHRC advisers and not commissioners.
In their report, Chizuma and Kanyuka said they established that police officers raped 13 women, defiled one girl and sexually assaulted three under-18 girls during their October 8 2019 operation around the area.
The report says the police officers committed the incidents as the women fled violent scenes.
But reacting to Botomani’s assertions, the Ombudsman said she was “not sure which Constitution the minister is reading where it refers to
and the Law Commissioner as advisers of MHRC”.
“What I know is that by Section 130 of the Constitution currently in use in Malawi, the Law Commissioner and myself are commissioners of MHRC. I know a few people have raised this issue before but my view based on the reading of the Constitution is that by making the Law Commissioner and Ombudsman as commissioners, the law never envisaged complete lacunae in the commission, considering that human rights violations never wait for full commission,” explained Chizuma.
The Ombudsman further said it was her view that all interventions they were making are covered under Section 42 of the Interpretation Act.
“Let me add here that I do not, in anyway, mean that full commission is not required. We need full commission because myself and Law Commissioner can only do so much.
“At the moment, there is so much that needs to be done at MHRC requiring full commission whose appointment awaits Executive action.
But until then as commissioners, we cannot keep quiet on these serious human rights issues that keep on coming up in this country,” she said.
Chizuma also said the sexual violations issue at Msundwe, Mpingu and M’bwatalika along the Lilongwe-Mchinji Road and other human rights violations that happened there were serious and sensitive and needed to be handled as such by them.
“Dealing with these injustices and violations is what should be [more] paramount than raising issues about technicalities which need to be sorted by same Executive,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Malawi Police Service (MPS) has said they will study the report and take appropriate action in accordance with recommendations made.
Among others, MHRC recommends that acting Inspector General of Police Duncan Mwapasa should institute criminal investigations into the matter, targeting police officers deployed at Mpingu and M’bwatalika.
In a statement issued by National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera, MPS says it has so far recorded statements from the alleged 17 victims and case dockets on the complaints have been opened.
“The service also instituted its own inquiry to find out the circumstances leading to the same allegations. The report will come out soon and the nation will be updated accordingly,” said Kadadzera in the statement.
He also assured the nation that MPS does not condone any form of human rights violations, in particular sexual violence and pledged that the police would deal with any errant officer.
Meanwhile, HRDC vice-chairperson Gift Trapence has said they want action from the police beyond opening case dockets.
He said, as such, they would be proceeding with their demonstrations slated for Friday following police’s decision to ignore the organisation’s five-day ultimatum to arrest 17 police officers alleged to have committed the offences. n