News / Africa

Suspension of Anti-gay Law Draws Mixed Reaction in Malawi

Lameck Masina
Legal authorities and civil rights leaders in Malawi are reacting differently to the government’s suspension of laws that criminalize homosexuality. 

Government authorities say the country has temporarily suspended the country’s homosexuality laws until Malawians debate the matter in parliament.  This means that Malawi police will not arrest or prosecute anyone based on these laws. This has attracted a heated debate among Malawians.

Malawi Attorney General Ralph Kasambara announced the decision to suspend laws criminalizing homosexuality last Thursday, in the capital, Lilongwe.

He was speaking during the public debate aimed to find ways of reaching a national consensus on how Malawi should move forward in addressing the same-sex relationship issue.

Kasambara, who is also minister of justice, says the suspension of the laws will give Malawians an opportunity to debate the issue without interference from the executive branch.

The human rights organizations the Center for Development of People and the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) co-sponsored the debate.

"All in all, we are so much pleased that we are going in the right direction," said Undule Mwakasungula, the executive director for the CHRR. "As you are aware that there is so much homophobia against the gay community.  And, the community thinks they [homosexuals] don’t have rights. They don’t have free space in public life, so really it’s a move in the right direction."

The same-sex relationship issue has been a thorn in Malawi’s affairs, especially during the late Bingu wa Mutharika's government, when international donors cited the lack of sexual minority rights as one of the reasons some of them had frozen their aid.

But Mwakasungula rejected suggestions the government might have taken the stand to meet conditional terms of some donor aid.

"This is not about Western countries," he said. "This is about personal choice; sexual orientation. And, if you look deeper into some of the research which have been done, gay communities are everywhere in the world; blacks, whites, Indians, coloreds and the like. So let’s move away from issues that are going to divert the attention of addressing real problems.  This is about HIV and AIDS issues.  This is rights issue.”

However, the lawyers group the Malawi Law Society says only parliament has power to suspended laws.

“Any suspension of the applications of law must have the blessing of parliament," said John Gift Mwakhwawa, the president of the society. "No minister can verbally or over a written memorandum suspend the application of the law. It is amounting to the usurping the powers of the legislature. And, it is dangerous trend because next time one minister responsible for whatever laws will also wake up and suspend the application of those laws and we are creating a culture of impunity.”

Mwakhwawa says, although it is a fact that the existing anti-homosexual laws are not a part of the Malawi constitution, there is a need for government to follow procedures in dealing with the issue.

“The simple route to go," he said, "is to go to the constitutional court and say 'Do these provisions under our constitution stand the taste of constitutionalism of democracy or the standards that we are supposed to abide to, the international standards that are there?”

But observers express concerns that, in taking the matter to the constitutional court, there could be a delay because there are not enough judges in the country.  That, they say, makes it difficult to assemble three judges to sit as a constitution court.

Religious leaders are strongly against the suspension of the anti-gay laws.

"As a church, we were strongly against homosexuality. And, that’s no longer a secret because it was put on the papers and people heard about it.   So, up to now that is still the stand of the church in Malawi,” said Osborn Mbewe, the general secretary of Malawi Council of Churches.

Mbewe says the clergy are looking  to hear from parliament to hear from what it says on the matter before they take action.

The Malawi parliament is expected to begin a session on Monday, in the capital Lilongwe.  However, the issue on suspension of the homosexuality law does not appear to be on the agenda.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Troops Depart

Afghans are grappling with how exodus will affect country's fragile economy More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs