The latest Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has exposed how lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people face routine violence and discrimination in the country.
The 61-page report, titled ‘Let Posterity Judge’: Violence and Discrimination against LGBTI People in Malawi’, reveals how the punitive legal environment combined with social stigma allows police abuse to go unchecked and prevents many LGBTI people from reporting violence or getting medical care.
Among other issues, the report shows how the lack of clarity about the legal status of same-sex conduct leaves LGBTI people vulnerable to arbitrary arrests, physical violence, and routine discrimination.
The report was launched on Friday at the ongoing 63rd Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in Banjul, The Gambia.
To come up with the report, HRW interviewed 45 LGBTI people in Lilongwe and Blantyre as well as lawyers, activists, and government representatives.
Wendy Isaack, LGBTI rights researcher at HRW, said the law criminalising same-sex conduct contributes to a perception that LGBT people are fair game and can be assaulted without any consequences for the attacker.
Meanwhile, HRW has asked President Peter Mutharika to publicly condemn all threats and acts of violence LGBTI people, including threats by senior political and religious leaders.
Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) executive director Gift Trapece, who hosted the launch in Banjul, said the report is evidence of human rights violations that many LGBTI persons face in Malawi.
“The report is a reminder for justice institutions to fulfil their constitutional mandate in promoting and protecting LGBTI persons like any other citizen,” he said.
Malawi’s senior State advocate, Pacharo Kayira, who was present at the launch, said the report was noted and would be responded to in full later.
The report comes months after Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK), Theresa May, called on countries in the Commonwealth, that include Malawi, to decriminalise same sex relations, stating that the UK is ready to support such a process.
Speaking during the Commonwealth Joint Forum Plenary in London in April, May said she regrets that her country introduced laws that have brought about discrimination, violence and even deaths in Commonwealth nations.
In December, 2015, government through the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs circulated a moratorium on homosexual offences which meant that gays and lesbians were at liberty to engage in homosexuality.
However, Young Pastors Coalition in 2016 filed judicial review proceedings to nullify the moratorium, so that laws prohibiting homosexual acts should remain enforceable in the country.
The moratorium was stayed by the High Court of Malawi and an order of injunction was granted against government restraining it from implementing the moratorium. The stay and the injunction were also sustained by the High Court when the Attorney General applied to vacate the same.