Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has found complaints by Centre from Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (Cdedi) on alleged Malawi Police Service (MPS) brutality and land-grabbing by white settlers in Thyolo and Mulanje legitimate.
Cdedi, who have been organising demonstrations in the two districts to push government to act, on Thursday presented a petition to President Lazarus Chakwera.
The organisation early last year also lodged two complaints with MHRC, inviting the constitutional body to probe MPS over alleged brutality and the long-outstanding, and delicate, land issue.
In a response to a questionnaire on Friday, MHRC said it found the complaint against MPS on police brutality against landless people in Thyolo and Mulanje valid and would proceed to investigate the police.
“The commission officially wrote Cdedi of the outcome of the assessment by its complaints handling committee that the commission had accepted to investigate the matter. We anticipate to start this investigation this July 2021,” the commission’s director of economic, social and cultural rights, Makhumbo Munthali, said.
He said the commission also invited Cdedi executive director Sylvester Namiwa to have an in-depth understanding of the complaints.
But much as the commission is committed to probing the matter, Munthali was quick to mention that the only setback is funding, owing to budgetary reductions government has made to all constitutional bodies such as the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Office of the Ombudsman and MHRC itself.
“This situation also applies to many files (complaints) which are gathering dust due to unavailability of adequate funds.
“It is unfortunate that despite the bulk of work (complaints) that constitutional bodies involved in access to justice, such as MHRC, have, government has decided to reduce funding, a scenario which has serious implications on access to justice for the common man on the ground,” he said.
In his reaction, in a response to a questionnaire on the budgetary cut to the constitutional bodies, Minister of Information Gospel Kazako said there was a clear low level of knowledge and awareness that government changed its financial matrix.
“For it to interface with the object, three months were cut. What it means is that the budget you see is for nine months, and not 12 months as has always been the case. Certainly, nine months and 12 months budgets cannot be the same,” said the minister.
But Munthali challenged that figures are there for all to see that their budget was cut. He said previously (2020/21 financial year), the commission, which presented a ceiling budget of about K720 million, received K658 million.
And this time around, he said, the commission is allocated K441 million for nine months, which calculations show their budget is cut.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera, in an interview yesterday, welcomed MHRC’s probe, saying Cdedi has done well to lodge its complaint against police with an independent constitutional body.
“Findings by MHRC are widely accepted. The commission is free at any point to do its work and we are looking forward for the outcome of this investigation,” he said.
On the land query, the commission disclosed it received three-paged submission from Cdedi, informing it that the country requires a legislation to carry comprehensive land audit dating back to 1891.
“According to Cdedi’s submission, there was a lot of idle land in Thyolo and Mulanje owned by estate owners [foreigners] yet many locals remained landless,” Munthali explained.
He said when they met Namiwa, they indicated to him that his first complaint on police brutality would be considered for investigation while the submission on land would be considered under the broader land laws review through subsequent submission and engagement with the Ministry of Lands.
Namiwa, in an interview on Friday, commended MHRC for considering their complaint, assuring their cooperation during the investigation.
He said it was worrisome and frightening that the Tonse Alliance administration, which heavily campaigned on the premise of good governance, respect for rule of law, among others, would be too mean and in a short time in power start cutting budgets to constitutional bodies.
In their petition to President Lazarus Chakwera, delivered to Mulanje district commissioner during the Thursday demonstrations, Cdedi, on behalf of the landless people, said Malawi is under land colonisation as most of the land, including all the prime land, is in the hands of foreign nationals.
“Cdedi is particularly shocked with the deafening silence and total disregard of the issues being raised by the people of Mulanje District… It is very disheartening to note that the very same oppressive laws inherited from Britain, were nullified in the 1999 ministerial report on land related laws, but no further action was taken to correct the situation on the ground.
“The people of Mulanje are living in fear, and are more or less like half human beings, since the only fundamental natural resource that sustains life, was violently grabbed from their ancestors at gunpoint by the white settlers from Britain,” reads the petition.
Cdedi alleges in the petition that some estate owners have resorted to sponsoring legislators, through the Blantyre, Thyolo, Mulanje, Luchenza and Khonjeni police establishments, to skin alive innocent and unarmed citizens who are organised in groups, in an effort to make their voices heard.
The organisation has given government 90 days to address the stated grievances.