Malawi: Calls For Investigation into Protest Violence

(22 July 2011) The Government of Malawi must launch an immediate investigation into the deaths of at least 18 protestors during recent demonstrations across the country, a group of leading human rights organisations said in a letter today.

“In the midst of widespread dissatisfaction with the lack of good governance and the rule of law in Malawi, the government is attempting to divert the country’s attention by scapegoating the struggling LGBT community,” said executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) Cary Alan Johnson. “This is an old and worn-out strategy, but movements for social and economic justice in Malawi aren't fooled.  LGBT rights are women's rights, are poor people's rights, are prisoner's rights and are human rights.  We all stand together.”

At least eight people were shot and killed by security forces during demonstrations on July 20 in the northern city of Mzuzu, where over 44 people, including six children, have been treated for gunshot wounds atthe city’s Central Hospital. Other protestors were killed after police used teargas on demonstrators in Lilongwe, the capital, and Blantyre.

At least eight journalists were beaten by security forces during the demonstrations on July 20, and the Government has attempted to prevent private media outlets from reporting on the protests. Human rights activists in the country have been arrested.

The Government has attempted to block the protests using legal channels, and supporters of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party have reportedly intimidated and threatened protestors. President Bingu wa Mutharika appealed for calm in a radio address yesterday, but hinted at a fiercer crackdown on protestors. The army has reportedly been deployed in Lilongwe and Blantyre.

Human rights organisations are calling on the Government of Malawi to investigate the use of force by security forces which has resulted in the deaths of protestors. They also call for the government to protect protestors, including human rights activists, from violence, and to allow journalists to carry out their work freely and to report on the demonstrations.

Demonstrations have taken place in towns and cities across Malawi in recent days, sparked by fuel and foreign exchange reserve shortages, high unemployment, and repressive laws passed by parliament.

UN policing guidelines state that security forces may only use force when strictly necessary, to the extent required for the performance of their duty, and that the intentional lethal use of firearms is only permissible when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Cary Alan Johnson, Executive Director: +1 347 515 0330 or cjohnson@iglhrc.org.
Jessica Stern, Director of Programs: +1 646 549 0130 or jstern@iglhrc.org.