Malawi: Ministry of Gender Condemn Malawi Police Officers Over Sexual Exploitation

18 October 2019

The Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare on Thursday issued a statement to condemn allegations by rights groups that Malawi police officers raped women, defiled girls and tortured them during demonstrations in Lilongwe over presidential election results.

Riots broke out last week at Nsundwe- a trading outpost west of the capital Lilongwe - when opposition supporters blocked Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters from attending a public meeting by President Peter Mutharika. One policeman was stoned to death during the unrest.

Rights group Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN) claimed that that some police officers took advantage of the chaos to sexually assault women in and around Nsundwe on the following day.

Minister of Gender Mary Navicha has remained mum on the matter but a statement issued by Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, said it is "horrified" with the allegations of sexual exploitation by police officers against married women and girls at the trading centres of Nsundwe, Mpingu and M'bwatalika.

"The Ministry is deeply concerned by these serious allegations that borders on disregard for women's right and exploitation of their vulnerability," reads the statement.

The Ministry said it is working with all key institutions to ensure that the allegations are investigated to their logical conclusions.

It urges the public to desist from sharing materials that may reveal the victims' identity such as photographs, videos or names.

But human rights commentator Makhumbo Munthali faulted Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Mary Navicha and chief director in the Public Sector Reforms Management Unit Seodi White, who is also chairperson of Forum for Concerned Women for issuing " a mere press statement on such a serious matter."

Munthali said White and Navicha during the anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations, "they mobilised the whole state machinery and women to march against HRDC (Human Rights Defenders Coalition) for simply calling for Ansah resignation."

He said the two should have also shed tears and hold protests against sexual harassment and rape of some wives of suspects at Nsundwe in Lilongwe and school girls at boarding schools other than just a short press statement.

"It is sheer hypocrisy of highest order. This is clearly Seodi, Navicha selective approach to shedding tears.

"Where are those tears? Were us the parade/demonstration against the perpetrators? Where is the direct condemnation not hiding allegations," wondered Munthali.

Munthali said the "politically correct" statement from the Ministry of Gender is "a typical case of hypocrisy and lacks sincerity and deep conviction over the matter."

Malawi police have since set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations.

"Different professionals... will investigate the matter in a transparent and independent manner," said police spokesman James Kadadzera in a statement.

"All suspects identified will be treated according to the laws of the land without favour."

The assaults allegedly took place on October 9 by police officers dispatched to quell the unrest, according to the NGO-GCN.

"Police went to these places on duty because they were in uniform and they used a police car," said NGO-GCN head Barbara Banda, adding that the officers "threw teargas in every direction".

"In one instance, the parent of one of the victims was asked to go into another room and the girl was raped."

Banda told AFP that while three cases of sexual assault had been recorded so far, more could be "unveiled" by the investigation.

HRDC has also called for the allegations to be investigated.

"It is shocking that we have the police, who are supposed to protect people, abusing and victimizing women," said HRDC official Gift Trapence.

Protests have flared in Malawi since Mutharika narrowly won May's presidential election amid widespread allegations of fraud.

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