The High Court has granted two civil society organisations (CSOs) an injunction stopping President Peter Mutharika from swearing in two of the six commissioners appointed into the seventh cohort of Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC).
Effectively, the court decision has rendered dysfunction the constitutionally-established human rights watchdog which has had no commissioners since August 2018 when the term of office for the previous team expired.
The High Court sitting in Blantyre on Wednesday has also granted the CSOs—Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) and Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR)—permission to apply for judicial review on the matter.
The bone of contention in the matter is the appointment of two individuals, namely media consultant Baldwin Chiyamwaka who previously served in the commission and the Reverend Cecilia Kotima whose names, according to Ombudsman Martha Chizuma, were not nominated by any organisation as demanded by law.
Persons nominated for appointment but have been replaced by the two are the Reverend Patrick Semphere and lawyer Chikondi Chijozi, according to a letter Chizuma wrote to Chief Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet Lloyd Muhara.
The President appointed Stella Twea, Chiyamwaka, Sunduzwayo Madise, Boniface Massah, Scader Louis and Kotima as MHRC commissioners. Last week, government postponed the swearing-in ceremony of the cohort.
In the judicial review cause number 18 of 2019, MHRC, the President, and the Attorney General are first, second and third defendants, respectively.
The order, dated April 24 2019, was issued by judge Healy Potani.
In an interview yesterday, MHRC executive secretary David Nungu said all human rights issues requiring the decision of members of the commission will stall.
While the law does not envision a complete vacuum in the set-up of MHRC as the Ombudsman and the Law Commissioner are permanent commissioners, some administrative decisions cannot be made with just the two in place.
Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale could not be reached for comment, but Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Samuel Tembenu said he was yet to see the said court order.
Our sister newspaper, Weekend Nation, reported that Chizuma wrote the Chief Secretary, arguing that the President erred in law to appoint two individuals because their names were not submitted for consideration.