The United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Council has pressed government to provide statistics backing its commitment to fight corruption, promote gender equality and workers’ rights—amid a wave of new laws blamed for limiting civil liberties.
The demands, inserted in a communiqué filed on March 12 this year, follow UN assessment of the State and local civil society organisations’ reports documenting the successes and failures in social-economic and cultural rights promotion.
This is in line with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) the country ratified in 1993 and adopted as human rights standards.
On corruption, the UN queries government to outline how it has been implementing the corruption legislation and the number of cases prosecuted.
“Describe efforts to combat bribery and other acts of corruption, paying particular attention to land administration, public procurement and tax administration.
“Please also provide statistical data on the number of cases of corruption prosecuted in the past five years, the sanctions imposed on the perpetrators and the assets resulting from corruption that have been recovered,” the communique reads in part.
In its report sent to the committee, the government boast of adopting a Gender Equality Act Implementation and Monitoring Plan whose role is “to provide gender equality, integration, influence, empowerment, dignity and opportunities for men and women in all functions of society”.
But the UN bounced it back, demanding statistics on what the plan has achieved.
“Please provide updated information on the measures mentioned in the State party report [paragraphs 15–20] on achieving equality between men and women, including disaggregated statistical data.
“Please provide information on measures taken, and their impact, as part of the Gender Equality Act Implementation and Monitoring Plan… also provide information on measures taken, and their impact, to close the gender pay gap,” the UN team demands.
On workers’ rights, the UN body demands assurances on the citizens’ freedom to join trade unionism.
“Please provide information on how the State party ensures, in law and in practice, that all workers can exercise their right to form, join and be members of a trade union, and their right to strike, without being subjected to unwarranted restrictions or fear of reprisals,” it reads.
Human Rights Consultative Committee Committee (HRCC) chairperson Robert Mkwezalamba in an interview on Wednesday said the workers’ query stems from the amendment of labour laws which have infringed on the workers’ rights.
The newly amended Labour Relations Act provides for an employer’s right to withhold wages from striking employees.
“The unions and workers raised concerns that the processes that were followed were not conducive. The International Confederations of Trade Unions also wrote to the government to say the laws you have enacted are against freedoms of association and infringe on the rights of free trade unions.
“Reports were sent to the UN on how Malawi has enacted that law as a result the committee picked those concerns and they have asked the Malawi Government to give feedback,” said Mkwezalamba, a trade unionist himself.
In assessing the operating environment for trade unions, he said: “It has been conducive for the establishment of the trade unions. However, with that amendment what it means is that it is not automatic that people are going to join trade unions.
“Workers will be afraid. In all fairness, a person cannot join an organisation that cannot fight for their rights…government to ensure that it reviews its position and revisits the laws it amended.”
Malawi is among a number of countries earmarked for the UN council’s scrutiny this year and government was given until this week to provide the statistics which include its commitment to tackle climate change and ensure security for children, women and people with disabilities.
After responding, the UN council will summon the government for a meeting where it will respond fully to the concerns raised by human rights organisations. Later, they will file a report on Malawi’s performance and recommendations.
Meanwhile, the Malawi Law Society has praised the process as crucial in ensuring that government fulfils its commitments under the covenant.
“These principles are underpinned by principles of good governance that seek to protect public interest in the management of public resources.
“The status of the country’s fight against corruption reflects on the state of compliance with such international good governance standards and the desire to meet developmental goals for the less privileged,” said its president Patrick Mpaka in a response to our questionnaire.
The Ministry of Justice, which houses a unit that coordinates government’s international human rights reporting, was yet to respond to our questionnaire.