Government has come under fire for voting against a motion at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last Thursday to investigate violence in the recent conflict between Israel and self-governing Palestinian territory of Gaza.
While the resolution was still adopted after 24 countries voted in its favour, Malawi alongside Austria, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Czech Republic, Germany, Marshall Islands, United Kingdom and Uruguay, voted against it.
Rights groups, policy experts and the opposition have since condemned government for the decision, saying Malawi should use its position in the council to promote respect for international human rights law.
In an interview yesterday, Leader of Opposition in Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa said the matter was a human rights issue and that as a country which promotes the same, Malawi should not have voted against the motion.
He said: “The government should not have done that. Even when President [Lazarus] Chakwera came to Parliament, he was asked on the Malawi-Israel and Palestine relations and he did not answer as we expected.
“The underlying factor is that this is a human rights issue. I thought that government should not have voted against because what is happening in Gaza is infringing on people’s rights. We need to be told why they voted against it.”
The Leader of Opposition stressed that government should come out and explain its decision, saying most Malawians do not support what is happening in Gaza and governmemt ought to have known this.
Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo, from whose ministry some officials attended and participated in the voting, said yesterday the decision was based on an instruction from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He said briefly: “It was a matter that was based on instruction from Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So, maybe they can explain more on this.”
But when contacted, Minister of Foreign Affairs Eisenhower Mkaka did not pick up his phone on his known number.
Meanwhile, University of Malawi public policy and administration Professor Happy Kayuni has said Malawi has always maintained a cordial relationship with Israel since the Kamuzu Banda regime but would abstain from such votes.
He said: “Previously, Malawi would abstain from such cases. It helps to avoid controversy.
“As a country that is a beacon on rights, we should be seen to champion rights, but if we don’t want to destroy our relations with Israel, the best would just have been abstaining from the vote.”
On his part, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation executive director Michael Kaiyatsa said Malawi’s decision to vote against the resolution was regrettable.
“The vote on Thursday was an opportunity for Malawi to take a stand against gross human rights violations. It is unfortunate that government decided to do otherwise,” he said.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition chairperson Gift Trapence said government has chosen to be on the wrong side of history by voting against the core principles of international human rights norms.
In a separate interview, former diplomat John Chikago said when the President decided to open diplomatic relations with Israel, it did not mean wholesale approach to issues like this.
“You can cooperate with Israel but on voting. All along, it has been either abstentions or being absent on the voting day.”
Chikago said government should be consulting former diplomats on such issues, adding what has happened has disappointed many people.
Government remains resolute that Malawi will establish an Embassy in Israel’s City of Jerusalem. Palestine’s South Africa-based Ambassador and special envoy to Malawi Hanan Jarrar visited Malawi last year to try and dissuade Chakwera from Lilongwe’s intention to open an embassy in Jerusalem but her appeal was not successful.
There is an unresolved conflict between Israel and Palestine over East Jerusalem. Out of 89 countries with diplomatic missions in Israel, only 15 operate consulates in Jerusalem while the rest are in Tel Aviv.