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Malawians Question Reversal of Shoot-to-Kill Policy

  • Lameck Masina

BLANTYRE — Malawians have been experiencing an increase in armed robberies since President Joyce Banda’s new administration reversed the shoot-to-kill policy for police. Banda and human rights groups said the policy violated the rights of suspects and the legal premise of innocent until proven guilty.

The President of Malawi Joyce Banda arrives at Marlborough House in London, England, June 6, 2012.

The President of Malawi Joyce Banda arrives at Marlborough House in London, England, June 6, 2012.

A few weeks ago President Joyce Banda’s new government revoked the policy that allowed police to shoot-to-kill suspects caught in the commission of a crime.

Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Uladi Mussa said the shoot-to kill policy was unconstitutional. “Our constitution says nobody can be killed unless sentenced by the court in this country. Not that the police should kill somebody in the process of arresting an individual," Mussa said.

Since the change in policy, Blantyre and many parts of the country have been experiencing a spate of armed robberies.

Unidentified armed criminals stole undisclosed millions of dollars in cash from the Malawi Savings Bank in the southern district of Thyolo, Monday morning. This followed another incident in which robbers attacked an Indian businessman in the Limbe area.

Limbe police spokesperson Chifundo Chibwezo says these crimes occurred after a team of armed thugs broke into a number of homes in Machinjiri Township in Blantyre where they took electronics and cash.

Mussa acknowledged a deterioration in security, but assured Malawians that the government will not allow the lawlessness to continue.

“Malawi is not a farm. We will have to abide by the laws we have in this country," Mussa said. "So people should not be scared of anybody. Just report to police or even myself so that we completely crush the crimes committed by the individuals.”

The leader of the opposition Chipani cha Pfuko party, Davis Katsonga, said politicians need to stay out of police business. “These people [police] go through very intensive training. They don’t need a politician to tell them what they need to do," he said.

"I think it’s wrong to pretend that us politicians we know everything, because we don’t," Katsonga added. "Let’s allow the police to do the job as they were trained professionally and make sure that the police are indeed given the tools which they need in fighting crime in this country,”

Some police officers are reported to be demoralized by the change in policy and fear for their safety in responding to crimes. But new Police Inspector General Loti Dzonzi described such fears as baseless.

“Shooting-to-kill does not safeguard the life of the police officer," said Dzonzi. "What police officers should be advocating for is that government should provide them with bulletproof vests and not to allow them to shoot to kill before somebody has been given the opportunity to prove their innocence”.

Political scientist at the Malawi Catholic University, Vincent Kondowe, applauded ending the shoot-to-kill policy but said there must be a balance between issues of security and human rights.

“Coming from the background where the police have abused those powers, probably the president was right [for reversing the policy] but there are certain things which the president was not supposed to say publicly," Kondowe said. "For example administrative [and] procedural issues are not supposed to be said publicly because it creates alarm like the way the police have reacted here.”

The shoot-to-kill policy was first enacted last year under a directive from late president Bingu wa Mutharika during the July 20 anti-government demonstrations. Police shot and killed at least 18 people - sparking international condemnation and cuts in foreign assistance.

Since taking office in April, President Banda has been moving quickly on changing directions to win back much needed foreign aid.

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