Malawi has recorded increased cases of violence against women and girls in the recent months. Reports of rape and defilement have become widespread.
The country has also witnessed increasing levels of violence and mob justice against elderly persons who are accused of practicing witchcraft.
Some victims of mob justice have been killed while others have been banished from their homes and have consequently lost their property.
Amidst efforts to address these human rights violations, there have been desperate calls by some activists, and even the Minister of Homeland Security who was caught on WhatsApp video urging people to take the law into their own hands as a way of responding to the issue of sexual violence against women and girls.
The Commission has engaged directly with the Honourable Minister on this matter, observing that taking the law into one’s own hands constitutes mob justice which is a criminal offence and a breach of fundamental human rights. Mob justice is not, and cannot be a solution to the problems that the country is experiencing.
It should therefore not be advocated as a solution in a civilised and democratic society such as our own.
One of the cardinal rules of natural justice is the right to be heard. Under both the Constitution and international law, there is a presumption of innocence for every person suspected to have committed a crime.
Calling upon community members to deal with suspects on their own without taking them through the criminal justice system is a violation of human rights and must be condemned in the strongest terms possible.
Section 45 of the Constitution provides that some rights are non-derogable. Among these non
derogable rights are the right to life and the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. It cannot be expected, therefore, that some situations can be used as an excuse for suspending these rights. Further, not all persons suspected of committing an offence have actually committed them, punishing a person without having regard to the rights of that person to due process is a violation of the rights provided under section 44 of the Constitution.
The Malawi Human Rights Commission is concerned with the increasing incidences of sexual violence against women and girls and witchcraft related violence against elderly persons, especially elderly women.
Nevertheless, the Commission notes that a solution for the problem cannot be found in the creation of another problem.
Malawi is a democratic country founded on a democratic constitution with a Bill of Rights. Section 18 of the Constitution provides for the right to personal liberty. Further Section 19 provides for the right to human dignity. This right includes the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment. Any form of mob justice is a violation of Section 19 of the Constitution.
It is a fact that the country is facing unprecedented levels of human rights violations through cases of rape and defilement.
Malawians must sit down together and reflect on best practices that can be adopted to address the situation. The matter is complex and calls for multi-pronged approaches from various angles. The Commission believes that as a country, we have the capacity to address the
problem without resorting to lawlessness and anarchy. Urging people to exercise violence is
dangerous to the democratic parameters on which our Constitution is founded.
The Commission therefore calls upon the Government, political parties. religious and civil society leaders, traditional leaders and all community members to take action by sensitizing members of the general public not to engage in mob justice and allow for the rule of law and the hand of justice to take its course. Above all, all stakeholders have a role to play in civic educating all Malawians not to engage in any form of sexual violence and mob justice. The Commission also urges the Police to take action against all perpetrators of mob justice and ensure that they are held accountable for their action through the criminal justice system.