Saturday, 19 January 2013

A Chrismas Message from the HRCC Chairperson

Once again it is that time of the year that we all look for, time to close down and rest with our families at home during Christmas. This is the time we all sit back, recount and reflect on how the year has been personally and as organisations.

As a country we started this year of 2012 with another leadership and we end with a different leadership all together. We had different challenges then and we finish the year with different challenges altogether. However, all these challenges are bordering within similar Social, Economic and political cycles affecting the citizens we represent. Lessons have been learnt and that is one thing we all must carry over to the New Year and draw proper strategies on how we can deal with them constructively in this year 2013 beyond.

As we come into 2013 we are also drawing closer to elections in 2014 and as usual our networking, oversight and advocacy shall play a crucial role in preserving our hard won democracy through constitutionally acceptable means. Our economy is also still struggling presenting serious challenges to the citizens and that also presents a challenge to us of still more lobbying for better economic policies of the country. The Political land scape is shaping up for its own challenges and as indicated we are drawing to 2014, all indicators are clear that we must remain vigilant. All these two are recreating social challenges that all Malawians should not be willing to allow, that is increase in crime, hunger, poverty levels, price and inflation increases just to mention a few.

Despite all these challenges we at HRCC remain optimistic that change in these Economic, Social and Political challenges is inevitable and must begin with us. As watch dogs we commit into being alert and active to tackle anything that may challenge our constitution and would negatively affect our people while at the same time we shall always encourage and applaud efforts that will promote the wellbeing of all Malawians going forward.

The Secretariat will be closed for Christmas on 20th December, 2012 and shall be opened on 07th January 2013. In case of any emergency please contact Teddie Mandala on 0999 523 277 or Linda Jere on 0999 302 404 or email: 

On behalf of the Board and Secretariat I would like to thank you for being avay and wish you a happy Festive Season and new year, praying to meet you again in 2013 and that you will be available at all times we have called on you to support positive courses in the process of maintaining and preserving our democrac

As HRCC Extend Consultations on its Accountability &Transparency Programme to the Southern Region

Human Rights Defenders in Malawi on 1st November 2012, called for more enhanced solidarity within the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) sector if the country had to make positive strides in the areas of good governance, social, political and economic development.

Speaking during the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) consultative conference held at Grace Bandawe in Blantyre, HRCC Vice-Chairperson Margaret Ali, said time had come for civil society to engage an extra gear in dealing with the myriad challenges affecting ordinary citizens in the country.

“Looking at the contributions and the experiences from the [HRCC] members, it is clear that we need to unite and work together before the human rights situation gets out of hand. We shouldn’t relax,” she said.

The conference, which was organised in collaboration with Civil Liberties Committee (CILIC), drew participants mostly from the Southern Region to compile and document cases of human rights violations occurring mainly in the region.

In his presentation, National Electoral Systems Trust (NEST) Executive Director, Unandi Banda, reminded the participants that in the recent past Malawians had experienced a repeat of the 1966 scenario where Parliament passed some laws which were oppressive to the citizens.

He said the recent series of political episodes, including the last year’s historical events of the July 20, was a repeat of the years that followed the infamous 1966 constitutional review which saw many Malawians suffer from various forms of human rights abuses and political intimidation during the one party era. Some Malawians went into exile while many others lost their lives.

“To address the issue of bad governance and abuse of human rights [today], I would propose that we as human rights defenders in HRCC we should keep an open eye on the activities of the state and its branches,” he said.

He urged his fellow activists to stand to the truth in defence of human rights in the country, observing that the July 20 demonstrations last year led by HRCC and other networks throughout the country helped to liberate the minds of Malawians from the yoke of a dictatorial administration.

“We need not to have a divided opinion on matters that relate to human rights because there is power in unity,” Banda advised.

Social services
The Human rights defenders resolved to hold accountable those responsible for provision of basic social amenities and utilities. In particular, they agreed to confront water utility companies on the shortage of water in the cities and towns which had almost reached crisis levels in some areas.

They noted that the prolonged scarcity of water had resulted in many residents resorting to drawing contaminated water from wells and rivers for daily consumption.

African Network for Protection and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) Executive Director, Ken Williams Mhango, cited Mudi River in Blantyre as the most contaminated stream with raw waste.

“They draw water for cooking and washing from this heavily polluted river. Our children are bathing in this river. The water is stinking, but they have no any other choice. We must take action,” he said.

Gender-based violence
The activists noted that the country was experiencing increased cases of gender-based violence in homes, schools, offices and other public places which needed urgent intervention from CSOs under the HRCC.

CILIC Executive Director, Emie Chanika, said her office had been inundated with numerous cases of gender-based violence, some of which it could hardly handle due to limited resources and other forms of support.

“We receive many cases of gender-based violence ranging from property grabbing to defilement. We need support from Government, donors and improved coordination with other CSOs,” she said.

Chanika appealed to donors to rationalise they way they support CSOs, alleging that some donors were focusing more on human rights organisations that just know how to write better proposals than on those who actually do the donkey work on the ground.

Police services
Human Rights defenders were concerned about poor law enforcement by the Malawi Police Service. They said the situation was hindering the advancement of human rights in the country. They noted that some police officers were allegedly misplacing files and other documentation after receiving bribes in an attempt to sabotage the due process of the law.

The activists also expressed concern over reports that some wealthier people were accessing bail more quickly than those who were less privileged.

There was a general consensus among the participating organisations that law enforcement was poor especially in police stations that were situated in rural areas.

“People are committing serious crimes that are being left unpunished in the villages. For instance, my organisation came across a case in Neno where a husband battered his wife to death with an axe. Police arrested him but only to be released two months later,” bemoaned NEST’s Unandi Banda.

While acknowledging that the police behaviour could be a way of indirectly sending out a message about the poor working conditions they were subjected to, the human rights defenders deplored the conduct, nonetheless.

“If indeed this is the case, the police system has ways of forwarding their concerns than allowing their challenges reflected in their day to day work,” he said.

Prisoners’ conditions
The human rights defenders raised an alarm over the worsening situation of prisoners in many prisons in the country due to overcrowding.

Centre for Human Rights, Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) Executive Director, Victor Mhango, said most prisons in Malawi have poor living and sanitation conditions due to congestion. He added that a lot of inmates lack legal representation while others are duped by unscrupulous lawyers who collect money from them on the pretext of representing their cases.

“Unless we all join hands with government to ensure that we have realistic strategies and programmes in place aimed at reducing congestion in prisons, the situation will continue to worsen,” he warned.

Child rights abuse
The activists noted increased cases of child rights abuses ranging from child trafficking to corporal punishment.

They cited a case of a learner who was severely beaten and tied to a tree at the Lirangwe Primary School in Blantyre yet the police did not arrest the aggressor.

They also noted that the City’s Bangwe Township in particular was becoming more notorious for various forms of abuses against children which were heinous in nature.

The township, which is closer to the Malawi Council of the Handicapped (MACOHA) offices, is said to be flooded with many cases of abuse against children with disabilities.

“There is a habit of burning children there. There is need for human rights defenders to do something about it,” said Caroline Mvalo Chisi, Executive Director for Centre for Conflict Management and Women Development Affairs.

Alert system
The defenders agreed to come up with an alert system whenever there are human rights violations so that it forms a strong basis on reports sent to the United Nations (UN).

Malawi has an obligation to send both State Party Reports and CSO Shadow Reports periodically to the UN. It is also supposed to participate in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a new and unique mechanism of the Human Rights Council (HRC) aiming at improving the human rights situation on the ground of each of the 193 UN Member States.

They acknowledged that for periodic human rights reporting to be effective, there was need to make human rights documentation a continuous process through an alert system.

“In the process, it would be easy and convenient to consolidate data on human rights violations for reporting purposes at the UPR in Geneva,” said George Kayange, Executive Director forChild Rights Information and Documentation Centre (CRIDOC).

Emergency Fund
The activists also noted that there was need to put in place an emergency fund for human rights defenders who get arrested while protecting citizens’ rights based on past experiences.

However, they noted that an Irish international development organisation, Trócaire, has assisted some of the human rights defenders who found themselves in trouble with police in the recent years, but not many activists were yet aware of the facility.

“Some of us have benefited from it when we got arrested this year. Perhaps what we need is just to publicise the facility,” said Billy Mayaya, Programme Manager at Church and Society CCAP Nkhoma Synod.

Mchinji Communities Present Citizen Charters

The people of Traditional Authorities (T/As) Kapondo and Mduwa in Mchinji District presented citizen charters of their respective areas to their duty bearers in colourful interface meetings in October 2012.
The Interface meetings, were organised by Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) under the Liu Lathu project. Both events were highly patronized by community members as well as the Area Development Committees. Among the duty bearers were MPs for both areas, MP Chitete for T/A Kapondo and MP Chisale for T/A Mduwa; T/As and Chiefs; Director of Planning and Development (DPD) of Mchinji District Council as well as the District Executive Committee.

In her opening remarks, the Board Member for HRCC Kamogholi Zalira said that “besides presenting the citizen Charters, the objectives of the two interface meetings were to empower traditional leaders to spearhead active civic engagement; promote citizens’ active involvement in setting the development agenda; as well as increased collaboration between the local public offices and the citizens in deciding developmental activities in Mchinji”.

Lily Musaya, Project Officer of the Liu Lathu programme said the Citizen Charters were development plans for T/A Mduwa and T/A Kapondo, which are spearheaded by traditional leaders from the two areas with inputs from community members. The documents contain the communities’ visions for the next five years, community endowments, aspirations, how they plan to achieve their aspirations as well as gap identifications in their plans that require external help.

T/A Kapondo, speaking on behalf of all chiefs, said that “we have welcomed the idea of Citizen Charter and we are hopeful it will bring meaningful development in our area”.

The interface meeting attracted both national and community media attention. MBC TV produced and broadcasted a programme on the interface meetings for T/A Mduwa and Kapondo, as well as put up a story of the meeting on their news bulletin. Zodiak Broadcasting Station reporter was also present at the function and Mudzi Wathu Community Radio Station covered the interface meeting.

The communities of T/A Kapondo and T/A Mduwa have therefore submitted their citizen charters to the District Commission so that the charters can be aligned to the district implementation plans.

HRCC in conjunction with Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) and ODI will publish the charters and present them to the PS for Local Government and other relevant ministries for their action.

The project is being implemented in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia. The local name for the Mwananchi programme in Malawi is Liu Lathu, which means ‘the voice’ in Chichewa. The national coordinating organisation is the Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) – a Lilongwe-based non-governmental organisation with expertise on trade justice.

Although the programme is expected to have a national impact, implementation is in six districts namely Rumphi in the Northern region; Salima and Mchinji in the Central region; Mwanza, Zomba and Phalombe in the Southern region. In Mchinji, HRCC is implementing the programme in partnership with the Centre for Legal Assistance (CELA).

HRCC was awarded funding as the implementing organization of the Liu Lathu project in Mchinji, in T/A Mduwa and T/A Kapondo. The first phase of HRCC’s Liu Lathu project was implemented from January 2011 to December 2011 and the second phase between August to October 2012.

The Liu Lathu project aims to increase civil society and community awareness, knowledge, and skills requisite for reclaiming the right to development. This is intended to realize the outcome of generating more effective participation of communities in decision making and the need to increase community abilities in advocating policies, laws and practice that contribute to national poverty reduction, further entrenchment of the rights based approaches, and communities’ ability to demand accountability from public institutions.
HRCC has implemented key activities which include simplifying and popularizing the right to development and associated policy tools used by national as well as local governments.

In addition, HRCC has established an “Accountability Coalitions Committee” which links the community to the local assembly in Mchinji, and coordinates the participation of communities in the district's planning, implementation and monitoring processes.

This is with the assumption that the platform shall act as a conduit or tool for demanding answerability from local governments and consequently demanding accountability from national (central) government.
The project targets both Government and other non Governmental structures both at district, village, and community level.

This includes Area Development Committees (ADC), Village Developement Committes (VDC), Chiefs, the clergy, non governmental organisation and other recognised structures.

HRCC Courts Governance Institutions

Norwegian Ambassador to Malawi, Asbjørn Eidhammer, officially opened a consultative workshop organised by the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) on September 14, 2012.
With support from Royal Norwegian Embassy (RNE), HRCC is running a three year program called “Accountability of Governance Institutions in Malawi”.

The program aims to increase civil society and consequently community awareness, knowledge, and skills to hold formal national governance and accountability institutions accountable and responsive to the demands of the citizenry.
The stakeholder consultation workshop brought together HRCC partners to sensitise them and build their capacity on how they can effectively hold governance institutions accountable. It also sought to generate feedback from HRCC members on how the project can be implemented better.
In his remarks, Eidhammer said accountability was a requirement for democracy.

"The promotion of democracy and respect for human rights should be joint efforts involving both state and non-state actors. This is what the present government offers, and that is what the Human Rights Consultative Committee is aiming at," he said.

The programme develops the capacity of HRCC members to implement Rights Based Approach and governance programmes. It harmonises civil society efforts to facilitate adherence to reporting to international human rights instruments. The programme also emphasises documentation of human rights violation cases.

HRCC Board Chairperson, Undule Mwakasungula, said HRCC also believes that the Democratic Governance Framework provides a platform for different governance partner’s engagement and that the need for governance institutions' efficiency, effectiveness, accountability and integrity cannot be over-emphasized.

"HRCC is therefore taking an active role in ensuring that Civil Society effectively engages with governance institutions on issues of Transparency and Accountability," he said.

Mwakasungula added that his organisation intended to carry out performance reviews of Governance Institutions and make recommendations to make the services more accessible to poor Malawians.
Central to the programme is also to facilitate social accountability and democratic governance through evidence based human rights promotion and governance monitoring by December, 2014.

The project is focusing on governance institutions that have been put in place to ensure that every Malawian enjoys basic human rights and human dignity. Specifically, the programme shall build the capacity of HRCC members to demand accountability from governance constitutional bodies such as the Malawi Law Commission, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), the Legal Aid Department, the Electoral Commission (EC), the Anti- Corruption Bureau, and the National Compensation Tribunal.

The project also conducts public perceptions institutional Audits to determine performance of governance institutions and whether their work is done to the best interest of the people.

"This project is therefore designed to increase civil society and consequently community awareness, knowledge, and skills requisite for demanding democratic governance and social accountability," said Marcel Chisi, Chairperson of the Programmes Sub-Committee of the HRCC Board.

Solicitor General, Anthony Kamanga, who is also Chairperson of the Democratic Accountability Sector, assured HRCC and the participants that Government was eager to engage with the CSOs through the Democratic Governance Sector, which is one of the 16 sector working groups in Malawi.

“In fact, it’s not Government per se that invited CSOs to participate in the sector. It’s the Sector Working Group. If there are issues of mistrust, they should rather be raised in the sector itself,” he advised.