Month: Mar 2020

SAHRDN Essential Services During COVID-19 Wave of Lockdowns in Southern Africa

In light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which is an existential threat to humanity, and after a basic routine risk-based horizon scanning, – which indicates that under the otherwise necessary call for extra-ordinary measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, some governments are leveraging the temporary executive powers to potentially permanently squeeze the civic and democratic space in their respective countries. Emerging trends, especially in COVID-19, hit authoritarian leaning states indicated a high risk of human rights violations under the cover of fighting the COVID-19. Examples abound. Assassination attempts of HRDs and legitimate political opponents in Malawi, arbitrary arrest of the President of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, and the heart-breaking insurgencies in Cabo Delgado are some of the tell-tale signs. Our early warning system is blinking red. With South Africa and Zimbabwe the first countries in the region to officially announce a lockdown, – we call on the South African and Zimbabwean authorities to respect human dignity (ubuntu) and place human rights at the heart of all interventions. In addition, authorities must provide all essential services promised by President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, especially access to safe water to the most vulnerable, – and set a high bar for the rest of the region to emulate. This is important because, over the past few days, we have realized that the attacks on fundamental freedoms are increasing in more permissive environments due to the lockdown regulatory environment.

As we support efforts to contain COVID-19 and flatten the curve, – we have come up with a contingency plan to continue providing support to human rights defenders (HRDs) at most risk during the COVID-19 global crisis, including during the embryonic wave of “lockdowns”.

1. To Improve the capacities and resilience of HRDs to exercise their right to defend human rights

a. Training programs: only on-line digital security training to HRDs at most risk.

b. Country-level and Sector-specific Needs Assessments: only on-line assessments, – including desk research, key informant telephone or skype interviews and conference calls.

c. Campaigns: Support all online campaigns and strategic public interest litigation cases aimed at enabling citizens and HRDs to exercise their rights to defend human rights. We have observed worrying images of alleged members of the South Africa Defence Forces using force (wantonly beating up people) to enforce lockdown.

2. To Provide rapid, practical, holistic and inclusive prevention, protection and reintegration support to HRDs at most risk

a. Emergency grants: Our early warning system is blinking red. As a proactive measure, we are upscaling our emergency support to HRDs at most risk, – working hand in glove with our protection networks throughout the region. Emergency support will entail emergency legal aid, medical assistance, psychosocial support, and internal relocations, where possible.

b. Urgent appeals – We will continue to make urgent appeals to all solution holders and duty bearers to ensure HRDs at most risk are protected or at least there is enough media coverage to put pressure on authorities

3. To increase public recognition and evidence-based impact of HRDs’ work;

a. Media, Information and Publicity – We will continue to issue evidence-based press Statements in active solidarity with and to increase pressure on human rights violators through the COVID-19 crisis and post the pandemic.

b. Hotlines: Our hotlines +27 78 125 1062 and +27 73 620 2608 (calls, WhatsApp and Signal) are fully operational 24hrs during this period. And we will be constantly checking our emails protection@southernafricadefenders.africa

SAHRDN and HURISA call on Botswana government to take immediate measures to protect the rights of people in places of COVID-19 detention

Gaborone and Johannesburg:

Today, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN or the Defenders Network) and the Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA) have jointly called on Botswana government to take immediate measures to protect the rights of people including children in places of detention. Credible reports and videos circulating on social media have shown that as part of the process of implementation of the drastic and arguably necessary measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the authorities have created places to quarantine people entering the country through its borders. The places of quarantine are in addition to other places of detention such as prisons and formal detention centres before people are placed on remand. SAHRDN and HURISA have made preliminary findings that indeed some people have been detained under quarantine in circumstances where their human rights are being violated.

“For example, we understand that there is a shortage of toilet paper, soap, hand sanitizers and food for inmates. No tests have been done on those under quarantine and generally, the conditions are deplorable, likely to fuel sickness and spread of disease and could qualify as inhuman and degrading in violation of international law” said Corlett Letlojane Executive Director of HURISA and member of SAHRDN. “ While it is true that the world is facing through this COVID-19  disease a threat to the right to life and health at an unprecedented scale, the reaction of governments in Southern Africa and Botswana included must still comply with the human rights principles of legitimacy, necessity and proportionality” added Letlojane.

The government of Botswana recently announced a raft of measures it was taking in order to try and contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus and prevent the potential overwhelming of the health facilities in a way that would spell disaster for the country and its people. Some of the measures included travel restrictions, closing of borders and quarantining of returning citizens for 14 days. Botswana is the only country in Southern Africa that has not yet had a confirmed COVID-19 case and is understandably desperate to maintain this position. It has gone to the extent of ordering the quarantining of the State President Masisi after he made a trip to Namibia after the travel ban had been put in place.

“Countries are generally invoking exceptional powers to take quick measures that cannot be done by Parliament and that is understandable. The question is, what is the impact of such measures on the rule of law and effective checks and balances necessary to maintain democratic and human rights respecting societies” said Arnold Tsunga, the Chairperson of SAHRDN and Africa Director at the International Commission of Jurists. “We totally appreciate that ordinary people and the policy community are operating on the basis that the world is facing a public health crisis that is at a scale of an existential threat to humanity as we know it and that extra-ordinary measures are not just necessary but also popular but we should not stop to ask the question – what post COVID-19 world order do we need to inherit from a human rights perspective? ” added Tsunga.

SAHRDN and HURISA believe that given the high vulnerability and potentially irreparable harm that can be suffered by immigrants, detained persons, prisoners and people in custody that there is need for some procedure to ensure that such people who have been deprived of their liberty are able to have recourse to administrative and judicial remedies and oversight over their detention and conditions of such detention. Further, we call on the authorities in Botswana to immediately ensure sufficient space and amenities in such places of quarantine or detention including the provision of water and sanitation material, tissues, soap, food, blankets, toilets and sanitizers. The detainees and those in charge of such places must also be provided with protective material like gloves, masks as well as testing equipment to both minimize the risk of transmissions as well as for the mental health of the people in custody.

SAHRDN and HURISA have noted that a lot is happening at borders and airports and because of tight security, very few cases of egregious human rights abuses are being reported. There should be a standardized process of screening all travellers and those in isolation.  SAHRDN and HURISA therefore urge all Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) member states to treat those in voluntary or mandatory detention with dignity (ubuntu) and in line with international human rights standards and World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines in times of epidemic crisis like this one. SAHRDN also recommends that the International Organisation on Migration (IOM) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) should be seized with this issue now owing to the high vulnerability and helplessness of those in detention.

Contact:

Washington Katema (Regional Programmes Manager, SAHRDN): +2773 620 2608 or <wkatema@southernafricadefenders.africa> 

Corlett Letlojane (Executive Director, HURISA): +27825747773 or Corlett@hurisa.org.za

SAHRDN calls on authorities in Zambia to stop persecuting human rights defenders and demands immediate reinstatement of SC John Sangwa, a prominent lawyer arbitrarily barred from appearing in any court of law in Zambia

Lusaka and Johannesburg

March 19, 2020

Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN or the Defenders Network) calls on authorities in Zambia to stop persecuting human rights defenders (HRDs)and demands the immediate reinstatement of Mr. John Sangwa, a prominent lawyer in Zambia who was barred from appearing in any court of law in Zambia.  In a letter dated 13th March 2020, the Acting Chief Registrar and Director of Court Operations, Prince Boniface Mwiinga instructed judges, magistrates and registrars that “Mr. John Sangwa, SC, an Advocate of the High Court, practising under the firm of Simeza, Sangwa and Associates will no longer be allowed to appear before any Court in Zambia until further notice”. The letter stated that his suspension was a result of a complaint of professional misconduct which was made by the  Judiciary of Zambia to the Law Association/society. The details of the alleged complaints by the judiciary against Mr. John Sangwa were not disclosed.

This kind of targeted victimisation and persecution of a frontline Human Rights Defender and a constitutional lawyer has no place in a democratic society especially coming from the judiciary, an institution that has a constitutional duty to protect human rights and the rule of law,” said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh the Executive Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and SAHRDN board member. “It is an attack on the independence legal profession and puts the Judiciary of Zambia into unnecessary potential disrepute” added Kaajal.

SAHRDN has observed signs of systematic repression, attacks on human rights defenders and closure of civic space especially in the face of the general elections constitutionally scheduled for August 2021. The arbitrary arrest of Fumba Chuma  (Pilato) in December 2019 in respect of which there has not been a formal charge or court appearance is an example of one such concern. Pilato was initially accused of unlawful assembly for holding and accountability meeting with the youths in Livingstone under the program Be Heard Zambia. Despite attending Livingstone police station several times after his arrest to enquire about his case, he has never been formally charged. Laura Miti and Bornwell Mwewa, well known HRDs  were also subsequently arrested for showing solidarity to Pilato in December 2019 and were falsely charged of assaulting the police and being disorderly in public.  

SC John Sangwa has been a strong and consistent public critic on the efforts to amend the Constitution of Zambia in a way that entrenches strong presidency, undermines the separation of powers and judicial independence. He has also opposed the efforts to get the current President to stand again as a candidate in the upcoming elections. It is not an offense to comment or correct the officials in interpreting the Constitution, every Zambia should be allowed to defend their Constitution as stated under section 2 (a) and (b) of the Constitution of Zambia. He now faces persecution for his views. The increase in judicial persecution of HRDs points to the unjustified limitations on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly in Zambia which in itself is both a threat to democracy and a democracy reversal.

“The persecution of human rights defenders or people who constructively criticize the government seems to be becoming a norm rather than an exception in Zambia. Persecution of human rights defenders through arbitrary arrests,  detentions, and delegitimization through trumped-up charges and character assassination needs to stop” said Lepeli Moeketsi, another Board Member of SHARDN and Human Rights Officer with Lesotho’s Transformation Resource Centre.

Zambia is a party to many international human rights instruments that obligate the State to protect the rights to freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. We urge the authorities in Zambia to respect their own constitution and the regional and international human rights treaties which Zambia is part to.

SAHRDN calls on the removal of the ban on Mr. John Sangwa so that he is able to appear before the courts and execute his duties as a defender of the rule of law and advocate of democracy. We also urge the members of the Law Association of Zambia to continue advocating and fighting for the independence of the judiciary.  We call on the government of Zambia to respect the doctrine of separation of powers which is the pillar of democracy. The Judiciary of Zambia should give Mr. Sangwa his practicing license and allow him to continue his work as an officer of justice.

  • Ends.

For more information please contact Washington Katema, Regional Programmes Manager at wkatema@southernafricadefenders.africa or +27 73 620 2608

SAHRDN CALLS ON SADC MINISTERS OF HEALTH TO IMPLEMENT A CONCERTED AND COORDINATED REGIONAL RESPONSE TO CURB THE SPREAD OF THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS DISEASE (COVID -19) PANDEMIC

Today the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) called on the SADC member states Ministers of Health to implement a concerted and coordinated regional response to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (covid -19) pandemic

“Africa’s health situation and security is at crossroads. We are now facing a monumental health challenge with far reaching and debilitating consequences on our population, economies and cultural lives” wrote Arnold Tsunga the Chairperson of the SAHRDN in the urgent memo.

During this difficult period of global health security threats caused by the novel corona virus (COVID-19), the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) submits this policy advisory memorandum to heads of health ministries in the SADC region desirous of the need to promote and protect the right to health for all and safeguard the integrity of population health in the SADC region. This policy advisory memo is a call for the SADC Bloc to Unite, Invest, Prepare, Prevent and Respond!

Noting that a number of the SADC member states have started taking individual and uncoordinated policy decisions on combating the COVID-19 virus and its impact, the SAHRDN advisory memo provides policy imperatives as a way of strengthening the SADC Protocol on Health.  The response needed is a call for leadership, coordination, commitment, and energy.

“As SADC we already face a high burden of communicable diseases putting a strain on our underfunded, weak health systems, which will further be impacted by the emergency responses we currently need to halt the COVID-19virus” added Tsunga. 

The memo notes that clinicians in the SADC region are largely not experienced in dealing with a virus of this nature, equipment, medical resources and infrastructure in the SADC states are yet to handle a complexity of this magnitude and the SADC States emergency response capabilities remain unknown at this level of global health security threat.

The memo also notes that the SADC borders are porous, making COVID-19 virus a regional public health threat that can unleash a humanitarian catastrophe of immeasurable proportions in the sub-region. No country in SADC can stand on its own and fight this war. It’s either the SADC states swim or sink together.

For the full memo please click here

For inquiries and further information on this issue please contact Washington Katema the SAHRDN Regional Programmes Manager on wkatema@southernafricadefenders.africa or +27736202608

SAHRDN urges the authorities in Malawi not to politically persecute legitimate Human Rights Defenders through judicial prosecution

Lilongwe and Johannesburg

March 11, 2020

For Immediate Release

Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN or the Defenders Network) urges the authorities in Malawi to not politically persecute legitimate Human Rights Defenders through judicial prosecution  and demands the immediate release of Timothy Mtambo, Gift Trapence and McDonald Sembereka.   The three appeared in court this afternoon, and the court deferred the bail hearing to tomorrow March 12, 2020. The accused are currently detained at the Maula prison, Area 15, in Lilongwe. SAHRDN  also calls on the authorities in Malawi to ensure safety and security of the detained Human Rights Defenders, and will hold the state to account with regards their protection.

With Malawi at the cusp of a fresh election, and a nation at the edge, – arbitrarily arresting legitimate Human Rights Defenders, and deliberating closing the civic space, which is the oxygen for citizen voices is not only regressive, but a threat multiplier especially in the context of a highly charged political situation. Human Rights and Civic Space Defenders are not criminals, and they do not deserve to be subjected to prison conditions. SAHRDN, therefore, calls on President Mutharika to address the roots causes of the current political crisis in Malawi. And assenting to the Electoral Reforms Bill, recently approved by the Parliament will be a good signal.

As we had flagged in our first statement (March 8, 2020) the arbitrary arrest and detention of the HRDs coincides with the presence of some Israelis believed to be with intelligence background, whose presence in Malawi is yet to be publicly explained despite the public outcry after it emerged that they are in the country at the invitation of the State House officials. As SAHRDN we have reasonable apprehension and fear for the lives of the arrested Human Rights Defenders given that anything is possible to be done against them while detained including torture, inhuman and other degrading treatment as well as possibilities of slow poisoning. This is more so, in the context where the President of Malawi, H.E. Peter Arthur Mutharika has publicly declared HRDC as a terrorist organization, and DPP secretary General Grezelder  Jeffrey and other pro-government, anti-rights groups in Malawi have threatened to kill Mr. Mtambo.

The three HRDC leaders are being charged with contravening section 124(1) (b) of the penal code “inciting another to contravene the law”. This is after the three addressed a press conference on March 6, 2020 encouraging citizens to embark on a protest to have the President of Malawi H.E. Mutharika assent to the Electoral Reforms Bill, which was recently approved by the Parliament.

SAHRDN calls on President Mutharika to exercise restraint, and stop threatening local and international Human Rights and Civic Space Defenders. SAHRDN also reminds authorities in Malawi  to respect their own constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, which recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. In particular, Article 5: “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (a) To meet or assemble peacefully” and Article 12 (2): “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threat, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”

Timothy Mtambo is a human rights defender and chairperson of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) which promotes citizen participation and organises peaceful demonstrations denouncing alleged irregularities in the presidential elections in May 2019.

Gift Trapence is a human rights defender and deputy chairperson of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC).

Reverend MacDonald Sembereka is a human rights defender and coordinates the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), a network of local civil society organisations working on the accountability of government officials and promoting civil and political rights.

For more information please contact Washington Katema, Regional Programmes Manager at wkatema@southernafricadefenders.africa or +27 73 620 2608

25 years After the Beijing Conference: Still Not Doing Enough to Protect Women Human Rights Defenders in Africa


Statement in relation to the International Women’s Day 2020

In commemoration of the 2020 International Women’s Day, 12 civil society organisations (CSOs) honor the brave women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in Africa, and worldwide, and call on state authorities to ensure protection and well-being of WHRDs.

In 1995, with the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 189 states opted to remove the systemic barriers that restrain women from equal participation in all areas of life. Now, 25 years later, we are still demanding #EachforEqual.

Through their fight for equality, peace, and justice, WHRDs at all levels of society are daily working to eradicate discriminatory stereotypes, challenge unequal power structures, and promote justice for all. We applaud the WHRDs who continue to raise their voices in a world which is still based on patriarchal norms and misogynistic attitudes. The diverse and essential human rights work carried out by WHRDs make them a cornerstone in human rights promotion.

WHRDs are paving the way for justice. In Sudan, women activists spearheaded the 2019 revolution which ousted the Omar al-Bashir regime. In South Africa, women and girls are at the forefront of the fight for social justice, including female lawyers who bring women’s socioeconomic rights cases to the courts.

WHRDs are paving the way for women’s political participation. The number of women in political leadership positions has increased in Africa. For the first time in Kenya’s history, women were elected to serve as governors and senators in their 2017 election. Currently, fifty percent of Ethiopia’s cabinet consists of women, including many ministerial posts.

WHRDs are speaking up for sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR). Women across the continent continue to advocate for SRHR, including at a pan-African level. Many countries in Africa have adopted national laws against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and the rate of FGM has drastically dropped in East Africa. Maternal health has greatly improved, and there has been a significant decrease in maternal deaths.

WHRDs are champions for land rights, and they are advocating to mitigate the effects of climate change. African WHRDs are at the forefront of land preservation and the fight against climate change in Africa, and continue to inspire and to call on state authorities to take action – from the Kenyan land rights activist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, to young women activists from Nigeria and Uganda, and elsewhere.

The complexity of WHRDs’ challenges, where gender stereotypes and sexual objectification are largely intertwined with traditions and social norms, results in serious intersecting forms of marginalisation. WHRDs are often viewed as provoking gender roles, leading to stigma, ostracism, and attacks – by state and non-state actors. 

In addition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981), several significant regional and international frameworks have been adopted to safeguard the rights of women and WHRDs over the past 40 years.

Adopted in 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), described as an international bill of rights for women, sets up an agenda for national action to end discrimination. However, in Africa, Somalia and Sudan are yet to ratify CEDAW.

Adopted in 1995, the Beijing Declaration is seen as most progressive blueprint for women, with 189 signatories, and was set out to remove the systemic barriers that hold women back from equal participation in all areas of life – including the right to protect and promote human rights.

Adopted in 1999, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) recognises the important role of WHRDs, and outlines obligations of state authorities to protect WHRDs.

Adopted in 2003, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) is one of the most progressive legal instruments providing a comprehensive set of human rights for African women. 

Despite these regional and international declarations and treaties, not a single country can claim to have achieved gender equality. Moreover, several countries have yet to ratify all the instruments. The 2030 agenda is ten years away, and in order to meet the needs and address challenges faced by WHRDs, we need more progressive action by state authorities, and regional and international actors.

We, the undersigned, demand more protection and promotion of WHRDs in Africa, 

We call on state authorities to ensure that violations against women human rights defenders committed by state and non-state actors are promptly and impartially investigated and that those responsible are held accountable;

We call on state authorities to recognise and acknowledge the crucial role played by women human rights defenders as an initial step towards their protection;

We call on state authorities to adopt and implement national legislation to safeguard the rights of women human rights defenders, to ensure they work in a safe environment free from attacks, reprisals, and unreasonable restrictions;

We call on state authorities to comply with regional and international legal framework protecting women’s rights and the rights of women human rights defenders, and allow the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to receive individual complaints and launch inquiry procedures, by making the necessary declaration under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and/or ratifying its Optional Protocol (OP-CEDAW), or lifting reservations;

We call on the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, women’s rights, and on freedom of opinion and expression to assess the situation of women human rights defenders and present recommendations to state authorities for the advancement of women’s rights;

We call on the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to strengthen and adapt protection mechanisms for WHRDs in Africa, including sensitisation and more awareness campaigns of the existing protection mechanisms;

We call on the United Nations Human Rights Council to continue mainstreaming the promotion and protection of women’s rights, the fight against gender discrimination, and the promotion of gender equality into its work, especially the situation of women human rights defenders and their specific protection needs.

Signatories,

  1. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  2. Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)
  3. Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (REDHAC)
  4. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  5. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (EHRDC)
  6. Girl Child Network Uganda (GCN)
  7. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Uganda (NCHRD-U)
  8. Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  9. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN)
  10. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)
  11. West African Human Rights Defenders Network (WAHRDN/ROADDH)
  12. Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U)

SAHRDN demands the immediate release of Gift Trapence and McDonald Sembereka and calls on the authorities in Malawi to guarantee safety and security of human rights defenders in Malawi

Lilongwe and Johannesburg

March 8, 2020

For Immediate Release

Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN or the Defenders Network) demand the immediate and unconditional release of Gift Trapence and McDonald Sembereka who were arbitrarily arrested this evening, March 8, 2020. SAHRDN calls on the authorities in Malawi to guarantee the safety and security of all human rights defenders in Malawi, including the arrested two and the leaders of Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC). The two were arrested in Lilongwe by Malawi Police, and are believed to have been initially detained at Area 3 Police Station even though they are now believed to have inexplicably been driven to Blantyre. No charges have been leveled against the two. HRDC has been planning more peaceful protests in a bid to force the President to assent to the Electoral reform bill which was recently approved by the Parliament. The arbitrary arrest and detention of the HRDs coincide with the presence of some Israelis believed to be with intelligence background, whose presence in Malawi is yet to be publicly explained despite the public outcry after it emerged that they are in the country at the invitation of the State House officials. As SAHRDN we have reasonable apprehension and fear for the lives of the arrested Human Rights Defenders given that anything is possible to be done against them while detained including torture, inhuman and other degrading treatment as well as possibilities of slow poisoning. This is more so, in the context where the President of Malawi, H.E. Peter Arthur Mutharika has publicly declared HRDC as a terrorist organization, and at a rally today, the President is alleged to have instructed Police and members of his Democratic People’s Party to come hard on HRDC leadership.

While most human rights defenders who have been arrested in the past, including the two, have been charged under section 181 of the Penal code with “conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace” it is feared, following the unfortunate statements from President Mutharika, that HRDC members will be charged with treason. Gift Trapence and McDonald Sembereka have been organising peaceful demonstrations demanding the resignation of Jane Ansah, the Chairperson of Malawi Electoral Commission for alleged irregularities in the conduct of elections held on 21 May 2019. With the constitutional court ruling, nullifying the last election, political tensions have been rising, and the civic space, which is the oxygen for citizen voices shrinking. 

SAHRDN reminds authorities in Malawi to respect their own constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, which recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. In particular, Article 5: “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (a) To meet or assemble peacefully” and Article 12 (2): “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threat, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”

Gift Trapence is a human rights defender and deputy chairperson of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) which promotes citizen participation and organises peaceful demonstrations denouncing alleged irregularities in the presidential elections in May 2019.

Reverend MacDonald Sembereka is a human rights defender and coordinates the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), a network of local civil society organisations working on the accountability of government officials and promoting civil and political rights.

For more information please contact Washington Katema the Regional Programmes Manager at Washington Katema wkatema@southernafricadefenders.africa or +27736202608