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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora