|Stephane Tchakam, Charge de Communication Pan Africa ILGA|
The NGOs -Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) and Malawi Religious Leaders Living and Affected by HIV and Aids (MANERELA+) - said they were concerned with government’s “derogatory language, threatening remarks, deliberate propaganda to mislead the general public, and twisting of facts about concerns being presented by civil society and other stakeholders.”
In a media statement made available to Nyasa Times, CHRR’s Undule Mwakasungula, CEDEP’s Gift Treparence and MANERELA’s Rev MacDonald Sembereka urged government not to waste time in spin doctoring but to take heed of the issues repeatedly raised by civil society, faith community, media groups, national institutions, academic experts, political groups, donors and members of the general public.
The NGO leaders noted that “some government officials have championed in diverting the general public from the issues of concern and instead embark on castigating and threatening those who have raised the issues or defend the obviously concerning state of affairs, without providing any alternative on how the Government would address the issues.
“At times, this counterproductive approach has brought embarrassment to the government and question on its competence to address national issues or crises.”
The activists said they were pleased when President Bingu wa Mutharika pledged to continue to adhere to democratic principles and good governance on 7th April, 2011 during the signing of Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) pact but called on the President to ensure that his Government “exclusively promote and respect good governance and human rights and address all concerns repeatedly and consistently raised by the different stakeholders.”
The statement said: “Any contrary rhetoric by some government officials sends conflicting messages to the populace, as to whether the Government is really committed to addressing issues that are negatively affecting the people.”
They also called on government and presidential spokespersons to provide professional, responsible and constructive response to concerns raised by stakeholders or the general public.
“We further feel that these spokespersons need to illustrate competent understanding of the relationship between concerns raised and good governance and/or human rights in Malawi instead of promoting empty rhetoric as they have always done,” said the statement.
They noted with concerns that government spokesman Symon Vuwa Kaunda and presidential spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba and other government officials, have appeared in the media castigating and threatening stakeholders that speak against discrimination against sexual minorities in Malawi.
“In these media outbursts, they have twisted concerns and issues, telling the nation that some organisations are being ‘bribed’ to bring unacceptable alien practices into Malawi.
“For example, CEDEP and CHRR have been accused promoting self interests in order to try to bring same sex marriage into Malawi. Further, the two organisations have also been accused of receiving MK99 Million from the Norwegian and Dutch government on a deal to promote same sex marriages in Malawi.
“It’s important to note that the issue of sexual minorities is perhaps the issue that Government has used the most to promote propaganda and misrepresentation in order to divert attention to the real issues or concerns being presented and affecting the country currently for the purpose of gaining sympathy,” reads the statement.
Empty political rhetoric
“We would like to challenge the Government that their empty political rhetoric that same sex relations are inexistent in Malawi is contrary to what their principles and technocrats state. Firstly; we would like to challenge government that the issue of sexual minorities is not new to them as there is documented evidence that the Malawi Government has previously participated on this issue at the United Nation’s level.
“Men having Sex with men (MSM) are also recognised in the Malawi National HIV and AIDS Action Framework (2010 to 212), where government promises to address issues of HIV and AIDS among these groups,” reads the statement.
The NGOs pointed out that technocrats from Mutharika administration have previously publicly affirmed the importance of targeting people who practice same sex practices in the HIV and AIDS response.
“In the proposal submitted to the Global Fund, the Government of Malawi tasked itself to address all issues concerning of Men having Sex with Men (MSM).
“Ultimately, although a magistrate court had convicted a same sex couple in Malawi; the Malawi President His Excellency Prof. Bingu Wa Mutharika pardoned them barely a week after the conviction, likely after realising the constitutional and international human rights law errors surrounding such conviction. It is therefore hypocritical for the Government to pretend that the issue of sexual minorities is not worth comprehensive approach.”
The NGOs said contrary to the propaganda allegations; CEDEP, CHRR and MANERELA+ have contested that it is unconstitutional and discriminatory to persecute sexual minorities based on their sexual orientation and practices.
“In other words; we are of the view that penal laws that provides for imprisonment of sexual minorities are inconsistent with principles of non discrimination as contained in the Malawi Constitution and therefore invalid. Such discrimination is also contrary to Malawi’s obligation under international human rights treaties.”
On the Government’s arguments that same sex practices are ‘un-Malawian’ in terms of Christian faith and culture; the NGOs challenged government “to prove to us that all ‘morally unacceptable’ sexual practices in terms of culture and Christian faith carry jail terms or persecution.”
The campaigners said Malawi as a secular nation, Christianity or any other religion should not be used to alienate diversity.
“People in Malawi have different beliefs and it is unfair to impose beliefs or regulate society using beliefs from one group or sect. Even Jesus Christ spent his whole life compassionately embracing a diverse range of personalities, without promoting hatred, persecution or discrimination.
“The faith community must also remember that they have the duty to promote love and tolerance among people of different religions, cultures and beliefs. Religious leaders or groups should not be the first to cast the stone of hate and discrimination against minority groups. We are all children of God, regardless of our personal circumstances or differences.”