Urgent Interventions

Threats and reprisals against members of human rights organisations


MWI 001 / 0311 / OBS 045

Threats /

Reprisals followingcommunication with an international body


March 24, 2011

TheObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme ofthe World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federationfor Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the followingsituation in Malawi.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory was informed by reliable sources ofthe condemnation (see below) by the President of the Republic of Malawi ofcommunications made by Malawian human rights organisations, including theCentre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), to the United Nations (UN)Human Rights Council and to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, as well asof the subsequent death threats received by Mr. UnduleMwakasungula, Executive Director of the CHRR and Chair of the Human RightsConsultative Committee (HRCC), a coalition of more than 90 organisations.

According to the informationreceived, on March 9, 2011, the Civil Society Grand Coalition for the Defenseof Democracy and Good Governance, a coalition of Malawi human rightsorganisations, which includes the Centre for Development ofpeople (CEDEP) and the CHRR, presented a petition to the UN SpecialRapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. The petition was askingher to investigate the imminent dangers faced by human rights defenders inMalawi, and to advise the UN to condemn the Malawian government and to informthe International Criminal Court of human rights violations in the country.

On March 16, 2011, Mr. Levi Mvula, ProgrammeManager of the CHRR, and Mr. Gift Trapence, Executive Director of theCEDEP, made a statement on the issues of governance and human rights abuses inMalawi at the 16th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva,Switzerland.

Following the statement, the President of the Republicof Malawi, Mr. Bingu wa Mutharika, allegedly expressed his disapprovalregarding those communications to UN human rights mechanisms. On March 18,2011, as he was commissioning a confectionery factory inLimbe, Blantyre, he allegedly stated that a group offifteen people was “roaming” in Europe, claiming that there are violations ofhuman rights in Malawi. He allegedly said that he was waiting for those peopleto come back to Malawi and to present their agenda. On March 20, 2011, at apolitical meeting held in Mangochi, the President reportedly expressed thatnon-governmental organisations were working against national interest byinforming the international community on rights abuses in Malawi. The President also singled out Mr. Undule Mwakasungulaas leading the civil society in telling lies to donors on human rights andgovernance in Malawi.

According to the information received, the same day,on March 20, 2011, Mr. Undule Mwakasungula received two phone calls fromunknown individuals. In the first call, he was allegedly accused of tarnishingthe government’s image and undermining the good work of the President, andwarned that the ruling party and government would “deal with him at all cost”.In the second call, the unknown interlocutor warned him that he would be“slaughtered” if he was not careful, and accused him of carrying out his workto dismiss a potential candidate at the next presidential elections. He furtheraccused him of misinforming the donors on human rights and governance situationin Malawi. Mr. Mwakasungula has filed a complaint at the police station butno-one has been arrested yet.

The Observatory expresses its deepest concernregarding the acts of harassment faced by Mr. Undule Mwakasungula and thestigmatisation of the work of human rights organisations of Malawi, as theyseem to merely aim at sanctioning their human rights activities.

The Observatory further condemns the allegedstatements made by the Malawian President against human rights NGOscommunicating with international human rights bodies.

The Observatory recalls that such statements are in violation of article5(c) of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the GeneralAssembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, which states that “For thepurpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms,everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at thenational and international levels to communicate with non-governmental orintergovernmental organisations.”

The Observatory further recalls the Resolution 12/2 on cooperation withthe United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of humanrights, adopted by the Human Rights Council on October 12, 2009. Its article 1urgesGovernments to prevent and refrain from all acts of intimidationor reprisal against those who (a) Seek to cooperate or have cooperated with theUnited Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of humanrights, or who have provided testimony or information to them; (…) (c) Submitor have submitted communications under procedures established by human rightsinstruments, and all those who have provided legal or other assistance to themfor this purpose”.

Background information:

On February 14, 2011,Malawi Police and Lilongwe City Assembly stopped human rights NGOs and civilsociety organisations from holding a peaceful march in Lilongwe City on the 2year-long escalating fuel crisis and deterioration of good governance inMalawi, in spite of prior demand to obtain the authorisation of assembly fromthe Lilongwe City Assembly, more than 48 hours in advance, as required by thePolice Services Act amended in 2010. The authorities stated that the purpose ofthe assembly was not valid.

OnFebruary 23, 2011, the President of Malawi invited some civil societyorganisations leaders to his State residence to warn them that he wouldmobilise his political party members to stop any civil society demonstrationsaimed at any dissenting views from him or his government.

Following this incident, human rightsdefenders, including Mr. Undule Mwakasungula, reported that they have beenreceiving threats, including anonymous phone calls and text messages asking thelocation of their offices and homes.

Inaddition, the HRCC received a letter dated March 2, 2011, signed by theNational Youth Forum threatening to close down their offices and itsleadership.

On March 3, 2011, four unknownindividuals driving a saloon car, equipped with knives and gallons of petrol,broke into CHRR offices and demanded that the guard takes them to Mr.Mwakasungula’s home. The guard was reportedly beaten and abandoned away of theoffice after he told them wrong directions to Mr. Mwakasungula house.

On March 6, 2011 the President ofMalawi held a public mass rally for the Democratic Progressive Party inBlantyre, broadcasted on the national television and radio, during which heallegedly told his party supporters to fight and crush all those who wereopposing his views or criticising the Malawi government on issues of humanrights, democracy and governance.

OnMarch 7 , 2011, senior party officials from the ruling DemocraticProgressive Party held a press conference where they reportedlydefended the President's instructions to attack everyone with dissenting views.During the press conference, the officials stated that the President statementdid not mean that his critics should be attacked from dissent.

Actions requested:

The Observatory urges the authorities of Malawi to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrityof Mr. Undule Mwakasungulaand of all human rights defenders in Malawi;

ii. Refrain fromstigmatising and discrediting the peaceful andlegitimate activities of human rights defenders and ensure that they can work ina safe environment without fear of being prosecuted for criticising Governmentpolicy or Government officials.

iii. Order an immediate, thorough, effective and impartial investigation intothe threats against Mr. Undule Mwakasungula, the result of which must be made public, in order to identify all thoseresponsible, bring them before a civil competent and impartial tribunal andapply to them the penal sanctions provided by the law;

iv. Conform to theprovisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9,1998, especially:

- Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and inassociation with others, to promote and to strive for the protection andrealisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national andinternational levels”;

- Article 5(c), which states that “For the purpose of promoting and protectinghuman rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually andin association with others, at the national and international levels (…) tocommunicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organisations”;

- Article 6(a), which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and inassociations with others, to know, seek, obtain, receive and hold informationabout all human rights and fundamental freedoms”;

- andArticle 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measuresto ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individuallyand in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, defacto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary actionas a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to inthe present Declaration”.

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamentalfreedoms in accordance with international human rights standards andinternational instruments ratified by Malawi.


· HE Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi, Officeof the President and Cabinet, Private Bag 301, Capital City, Lilongwe 3,Malawi. Fax: +265 1788 456; +265 1 789 273.

· Hon.Joyce Banda MP, Vice-President of the Republic of Malawi, Capital City, POBox 30399 , Lilongwe 3. Fax: +265 1 788218,Email :

· Hon.Aaron Sangala, Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security,Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security, Private Bag 331, Capital City,Lilongwe 3, Malawi. Fax: +265 1 789 509.

· Hon.Dr. George Chaponda MP, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Ministryof Justice Headquarters, Capital Hill, Private Bag 333, Lilongwe 3, Malawi.Fax: +265 1 788 332/841 ; E-mail:

· PeterMukhito, Inspector General of Police, Malawi Police services Headquarters,Lilongwe. Fax: + 265 1 797 979.

· JohnKapito, Chairperson ofthe Malawi National Human Rights Commission, H.B. House, Private Bag 378,Capital City, Lilongwe 3, Malawi. Fax: +265 01 750 943,Email:;

· Embassyof the Republic of Malawi in Brussels, Rue de la Loi 15 , 1040 Brussels,Belgium, Fax: +32 2 231 10 66.

Please also write to thediplomatic representations of Malawi in your respective countries.

Geneva-Paris, March 24, 2011

Kindly inform us of any actionundertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, an OMCTand FIDH venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders andaims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

· E-mail:

· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

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