MHRC crippled

Faced with piling workload to investigate human rights abuses in the country, State-funded Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) says it does not have the resources to undertake such critical assignments.

In an interview yesterday in response to The Nation enquiry on whether the institution has embarked on probing circumstances surrounding the violent protests of October 8 2019 that claimed the life of a police officer at Msundwe on the outskirts of Lilongwe City, MHRC executive secretary David Nungu expressed regret that the organisation is under-funded.

He said: “As a constitutionally set up organisation mandated to protect human rights and investigate all forms of human rights abuses in our country, we are running on a K1.2 billion budget against an ideal budget we had earlier proposed of K1.5 billion. We are overwhelmed with the work at hand just now.”

Called to take action: Mutharika

During the fracas at Msundwe, irate community members stoned to death Police Mobile Service officer Usumani Imedi.

Police followed up with the arrest of 43 suspects. The court has since released on bail 39 of the suspects.

But there are serious allegations of police brutality, including starving the suspects for three days, sexual harassment and rape of some suspects’ wives and school girls in boarding schools.

NGO Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN) has since expressed worry over the alleged cases of human rights abuse by the police.

In a statement released yesterday co-signed by NGO-GCN board chairperson Barbara Banda and national coordinator Joseph Njala, the network described the situation as heartbreaking; hence, its appeal to MHRC, President Peter Mutharika and acting Inspector General of Police Duncan Mwapasa to take action.

Reads the statement: “NGO-GCN is deeply disheartened by allegations of rape, defilement and torture of innocent women and girls in and around Msundwe, M’bwatalika and Mpingu trading centres.

“The network is disturbed with reports that some of the police officers as dispatched to the areas on Wednesday, October 9 2019, raped women, defiled self-boarding girl students, tortured people, and looted private property.”

Nungu said the K1.2 billion allocation in the just-passed K1.7 trillion 2019/20 National Budget was an upward adjustment by Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development after noting that the commission is now responsible for the rolling out and implementation of the Access to Information (ATI) Act and the Gender Equality Act.

He said that in view of the alleged human rights violations at Msundwe, his officers should have been on the ground immediately for investigations. But he said MHRC is using other means to collect information since its officers are undertaking investigations in other parts of the country.

“The challenge is that apart from human rights violations, the allegations of rape there are criminal in nature and require investigators with special skills.

“Rape is a police case, but because some of the allegations apparently point to some police officer, we cannot trust the police officers to investigate themselves. We wish we had an Independent Police Commission with oversight powers; however, we will handle this issue as quickly as possible,” Nungu said.

On ATI, he said Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani is expected to set a date for the rolling out of the much-awaited Act that was assented to in 2017.

He said immediately the minister mentions the operational date, the commission will be ready to go.

When contacted last night, Botomani called for patience among Malawians, saying the ATI Act will be rolled out soon. He said: “When I came in [as a new minister]

this year, I was briefed by the Ministry of Justice that they were finalising the drafting of the regulations and after this, we will discuss them with stakeholders before I can appoint the rollout date,” he added. n

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