Amid violent protests in Malawi over the alleged mismanagement of the presidential election in May, the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) Board in the country has reminded organisers of such demonstrations to exercise their right of assembly with responsibility.
In a statement tittled; A Call for Responsibility in the Exercise of the Right of Assembly, which is signed by the Chief Executive Officer of the NGO board, Voice Mhone, the board says it has noted with concern that recent demonstrations in the country violated other people's essential rights and urged relevant agencies to bring to book all the perpetrators of such violations.
"Objective number five of the NGO Act affirm the human rights enshrined in the constitution of the Republic of Malawi. It is with this statutory mandate that we call for responsibility in the exercise and enjoyment of the right to assembly being propagated by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) and some political parties," begins the statement.
HRDC, led by activists Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence, organized the recent demonstrations that were largely patronized by supporters of main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and those of UTM party to force the Chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) Justice Dr Jane Ansah to resign over allegations that she mismanaged the presidential election in May.
MEC declared President Peter Mutharika as the winner of the presidential election, a pronouncement which MCP leader Dr Lazarus Chakwera and his UTM party counterpart Dr Saulos Chilima are challenging in the Constitutional Court, alleging that the results were rigged in favour of Mutharika.
In the HDRC demonstrations, the protesters went berserk in many parts of the country, burning and damaging public and private buildings and breaking into shops and looting property, a development which has been condemned by various stakeholders including the government.
And in joining the many other quarters in denouncing such acts, the NGO board adds in its statement that destroying people's businesses as a source of livelihood in the exercise of the right to demonstrate, is uncalled for.
"The NGO Board, therefore, condemns all acts of arson on people's property in the course of exercising the right of assembly as this undermined the right to own property as well as the right to personal privacy.
"All rights are of equal importance and therefore, they ought to be enjoyed mutually interdependent. As human rights entitle us, they too obligate us.
"We deserve dignity for ourselves and owe respect toward others. We cannot talk about rights without talking about responsibilities. And we cannot talk about responsibilities without being part of a community. Human rights point beyond ourselves to relationships with others," says the statement.
The statement goes on to say that as the holders of human rights and fundamental freedoms, all individuals and communities in the exercise of these rights and freedoms, have the duty and responsibility to respect those of others including rights to holding of office of the Chairperson of MEC, rights of shop owners and rights of those working at Capitol Hill and City Centre.
"The significance of all human rights cannot be overemphasized: by them being inherent, they are the epicentre of human dignity. Human rights inspire and drive progress. They are a distinguishable means through which a man can express himself or herself which is the manifestation of his or her very existence.
"It should, however, be understood that human rights are universal and inalienable; indivisible; interdependent and interrelated, equal and non-discriminatory. This means that the enjoyment of every right is dependent on the other, and that no right is more important than the other," the statement observes.
It adds: "Whilst our Constitution of Malawi guarantees the right to assemble and demonstrate with others peacefully and unarmed (section 38), the pursuit of such right must not be done so as to interfere with other rights such as the right to life (section 16), the right freely to engage in economic activity, to work and to pursue a livelihood anywhere in Malawi (section 29), the right to personal privacy, which shall include the right not to be subject to searches of his or her person, home or property (section 21), and the right to acquire property which includes the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of property (section 28)".
As if the HRDC protests are not enough, MCP and UTM party followers led by Chakwera and Chilima have been going to every sitting of the Constitutional Court in the Capital Lilongwe by starting with a march which raised even more tension.
Meanwhile, HRDC has warned that it will get back to the streets anytime soon if Ansah does not resign.
Over the weekend, HRDC Chairperson Timothy Mtambo said the coalition would this Wednesday conduct a postmortem of the protests it organized last week.