The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) wants government’s two representatives on the human rights body to be removed in line with United Nations (UN) recommendations.
Government is represented by two commissioners, the Ombudsman and Law Commissioner, who join representatives of the civil society and other non-State players on the commission, but MHRC wants to be independent of the two representatives.
The MHRC’s resolve to divorce the two institutions, according to sources at the commission, was strengthened by the human rights body’s failure in its UN accreditation review process.
This has forced the commission to lobby Parliament and the Ministry of Justice to fast-track the process to ensure that it still gets support from UN and other international groups to execute its mandate amid poor funding from government.
According to a source, MHRC commissioners recently met and agreed to push for the UN recommendation to ensure that government just retains an observer status on the body.
Chairperson of the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament, Peter Chakwantha, confirmed in an interview that the committee is aware of the suggested changes.
“Parliament secretariat has just confirmed we have received a referral on the matter from MHRC; it is at the moment just a proposition. We are yet to discuss the matter as a committee.
“As a committee, we can summon the stakeholders such as the Law Commissioner and find out more on the matter, but right now all I can confirm is that we have heard about those developments,” said Chakwantha.
MHRC chairperson Sophie Kalinde also confirmed that MHRC has been undergoing accreditation review since 2012, but refused to disclose UN’s recommendations on the matter, citing ongoing negotiations with government.
“For now we cannot provide to the media information on the recommendations from the accrediting body and MHRC’s action on the recommendations since the issues are subject to ongoing negotiations. At the right time, the information will be provided,” said Kalinde.
Law Commissioner Gertrude Hiwa insisted on a written questionnaire on the matter, which she was yet to respond to as we went to press.
Ombudsman Tijulane Chizumila said she was not aware of the commission’s move, but refused to further comment on the matter.
“That is news to me. I am totally not aware of any development to that regard. I am not MHRC spokesperson, so call the executive secretary for anything,” said Chizumila, who refused to take other questions.
Former MHRC chairperson and human rights activist John Kapito said MHRC has for years tried to push for the removal of the Law Commissioner and the Ombudsman from the body.
“The resistance has been there for a long time and it is because the Law Commissioner and Ombudsman do not want to accept any changes that will strip them of their powers,” claimed Kapito.
He argued that without the changes, MHRC will remain ineffective in its role as a defender of human rights in the country.
The UN has deferred the accreditation process three times in the immediate past and has told Malawi to undertake the necessary reforms or risk being degraded, details a former MHRC commissioner has since collaborated. n