Taxpayer-funded Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) says it stands by its 2019 report on the rape, defilement and assault of women at Msundwe, Mpingu and M’bwatalika in Lilongwe, rejecting claims questioning the findings.
The MHRC investigations established that police officers allegedly raped 13 women, defiled one girl and sexually assaulted three under-18 girls in an October 8 operation in the three areas on the outskirts of Lilongwe City along the Lilongwe-Mchinji Road. The women were fleeing from violent scenes that ensued in the aftermath of the stoning to death of a police officer.
During a press conference in Lilongwe yesterday, the commission said its reaction followed a news article published in Malawi News of August 14 2021 and based on a February 2020 police report on Msundwe violence.
MHRC commissioners, led by chairperson Scader Louis, defended the MHRC report as valid on the basis that the institution is independent and that its core work is to promote and defend human rights with impartiality.
She said: “The commission finds this [the February 2020 police report] to be a distraction to the work of promoting human rights and defending vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society.
“The victims of sexual violence in Mpingu and M’mbwatalika suffered not only sexual violence, but also stigmatisation, discrimination and public ridicule.”
Louis said the commission noted that the article in question made several allegations purportedly meant to give credence to the claim that all the alleged sexual violations at Mpingu, Msundwe and M’mbwatalika were false.
She said the commission wanted to defend its findings because it investigated the rape and defilement case and its report was used in the civil case that went to court.
Following the publication of the article, Louis said there have been several social and mainstream media stories which have attacked individual members of the Women Lawyers Association and the commission.
The commission has since urged the media to exercise caution when reporting on sensitive issues as it fuels misinformation and disinformation.
Said Louis: “Most of the writing and media discussions have portrayed the affected women in a manner that betrays stereotypes that the commission is continually fighting against.”
She commended those that worked with the commission in ensuring that justice is done
On addressing the criminal aspects in the matter, Louis said the commission welcomes Inspector General of Police George Kainja’s decision to institute fresh criminal investigation into the allegations of rape and defilement.
She said the Malawi Police Service has the legal mandate of ensuring the protection of public safety and the rights of all persons in Malawi, and the general investigative powers that are conferred upon it.
The commission recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Police and Women Lawyers Association to carry out the fresh criminal investigation within two months.
One of the commissioners, Sunduzwayo Madise, said MHRC, in collaboration with Women Lawyers Association, are handling civil and criminal cases separately because they are totally different issues.
On the civil aspects, he said they are working on ensuring that victims are compensated accordingly while the criminal aspect will see perpetrators of the injustice brought to book.
It is alleged that some police officers raped and defiled the women and girls in an apparent bid to avenge the stoning to death of their colleague, Police Mobile Service Superintendent Usumani Imedi, by an irate mob at Msundwe. Reports indicated that the protesters wanted to block Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters from travelling to Lilongwe to attend a rally addressed by then president Peter Mutharika in Kawale Township in Lilongwe.