Govt rebuffs UN on activists’ arrest

Government has snubbed a meeting which the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids) had requested on Friday.

While the agenda for the meeting is not known, it comes at a time the UN and UNAids, have been calling on authorities to free rights activists Gift Trapence and McDonald Sembereka.

Dausi: We always believe in dialogue

The two were arrested on Tuesday on allegations that they are operating an organisation, Mango, which is not registered with the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Board of Malawi and that they allegedly used the NGO to defraud UNAids of over K7 million.

Since their arrest, many human rights and health groups, including the UN and UNAids have been calling for their release, on the premise that the matter was amicably resolved and that the UN and UNAids had not sanctioned the legal action.

UNAids Assistant Secretary General Shannon Hader arrived in the country when Trapence and Sembereka were in custody. He flew out on Saturday after the failed meeting on Friday.

A memo from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation suggests that the UN team wanted to meet Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security ministers of Malawi.

It reads: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Malawi presents its commitments to the Representation of the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids) and has the honour to refer to the latter’s Note No. NV/UNAids/MLW/03/2019 regarding the request for possible meetings between Dr Shannon Hader, United Nations Assistant Secretary General and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; and Homeland Security.”

In its reply, dated July 12 2019, the ministry said: “The ministry regrets to inform the esteemed mission that the Ministers of Cooperation; and Homeland Security are not available on the proposed date.” Foreign Affairs and International

The Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, Rejoice Shumba, could neither confirm nor deny the letter to UN, saying she had just arrived in the country and needed to confirm the document on Monday.

She also said Minister of Foreign Affairs Francis Kasaila was not in the country.

On his part, Homeland Security Minister Nicholas Dausi confirmed, in an interview on Saturday, that the UN resident coordinator Maria Jose Torres Macho called him for a meeting, but he had travelled out of Lilongwe.

“I don’t know what the subject of the meeting was, but I can confirm that the UN Resident Coordinator called me for a meeting on Friday.

“As government, we represent the people, and on whatever topic, we would have happily engaged the UN team. We always believe in dialogue. You see, the team had travelled from very far to come to Malawi, and I think it was a very important meeting, but the only problem is that I was out of Lilongwe,” he said.

Communications officer for the UN office in Malawi, Phillip Pemba, was not available for comment on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has joined other institutions calling for the government of Malawi to drop charges against Trapence and Sembereka, who were granted bail on Friday.

Southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch Dewa Mavhinga, said the arrest has sent a chilling message to human rights defenders.

“The Malawi authorities should immediately release from custody and drop the trumped-up charges against Gift Trapence, vice-chairperson of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) and executive director of the Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), both Malawian civil society groups,” he said.

Since the arrest of the two human rights activisits, Capital Hill has been out with guns blazing, as both Minister of Information Mark Botomani and National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera stating that they will let the courts decide on the matter.

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