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Sunday, August 28, 2011

UNDP Malawi

UNDP Malawi run a democratic governance programme which has focused on focused on three operational programme components

1) Participatory democracy;
2) Local governance; and
3)  Development management and access to justice.

Their access to justice programme focused on improving formal and informal justice systems strengthened through a unified program - based approach to justice. Their access to justice project sheet is viewable here

The major achievements made by the end of 2010 are summarised as follows on their website: 

With UNDP support through a Trust Fund amounting to US$ 21 million, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) was able to computerize the voters roll and register 94 percent of eligible voters for the 2009 national election. 74 percent of registered voters turned out on the polling day compared to 59 percent in 2004. Following such success, UNDP also developed a new programme to assist MEC to conduct the Local Government Election to be conducted in April 2011.
UNDP continues to support the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) to ensure that human rights are protected and promoted through sensitization on human rights and their responsibilities to influential local leaders like chiefs, village headmen and other community leaders. In 2010, a total of 52 cases from various districts in the country on allegations of violations of rights were investigated with 26 cases litigated. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) was conducted to identify the appropriate remedies on the major human right issues.
UNDP also supported the Malawi Parliament to formulate a Code of Conduct for Parliamentarians. The Code of Conduct is instrumental in facilitating the good conduct and behavior of parliamentarians.
On access to justice, UNDP has helped in strengthening the coordination mechanisms in the justice system. The justice coordination consultations and meetings have been placed within the Malawian context of institutionalizing Sector-Wide Approach (SWAp) and Sector Working Groups in the area of governance.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mediation process starts with a bang

On the opening day of the UN backed Mediation process the President decided to ignore recommendations of the Mediators that government and civil society leaders refrain from public discussion on contentious issues and said the following:
I have instituted a committee on dialogue but you are saying no. What the hell do you want? If you are not ready for the talks, make your position known. Inform me of the day that we can start war
He followed that up with:
Let this country go on fire if you want but enough is enough, I cannot tolerate this anymore... the fact that my government is not responding does not mean it cannot react. I can arrest all those misbehaving. I am quiet because I believe in democracy. I am saddened that when some people are drunk, fe nfe nfe they are going about talking nonsense...

Dedza and Rabbit Production

We traveled to Dedza this week for a case that was to be held in the court there. Dedza is just over an hour from Lilongwe and build just on the foot of the aptly named Dedza mountain, which was quite beautiful, especially watching it from the court as the sun went down. It is also famous for its crafts and I would recommend a visit for anyone in the area.

Dedza Magistrate Court

Just beside the court there is the Dedza prison
On a positive note after yesterdays post what I found most interesting about the prison was that it has a rabbit breeding programme housed in the building in the photo below.

In most prison services throughout Africa, the main expense aside from staff is food for the prison ration which is invariably purchased from outside contractors. The funds allocated for these rations are often only sufficient for one meal per day (generally nsima) which is inadequate both in terms of quantity and quality. Prison farms can be a key component of a strategy to reduce malnutrition and improve both physical and mental health in prisons. Penal Reform International has produced a practical guidance document for the Malawi Prison Service Farm Development Programme and there is also a short documentary on how this can be done. The framework is drawn from farming and management practices in eastern and southern Africa and PRI’s experience in Africa. The document states that:
Rabbits are produced in prison farms for meat consumption. As the prison farms did not have enough funds to buy animals such as cows to provide them with the high quantities of feed they need, a solution was found in rearing small animals such as rabbits. Malawi.
In recent years there has been increased awareness of the advantages of rabbit meat production in developing countries as a means to alleviate world food shortages.
This is largely attributable to the rabbit's high rate of reproduction; early maturity; rapid growth rate; high genetic selection potential; efficient feed and land space utilization; limited competition with humans for similar foods; and high-quality nutritious meat (Cheeke, 1980)

Farming in this manner is a simple, cost effective and pragmatic way of improving the lives of prisoners and it has also had a knock on effect outside the prisons in that prisoners are trained in a sustainable farming method when they leave the prison.  During my research on this area I also came across this quote which is attributed to Trywell Camchepera a  former prisoner in Malawi who was trained in potato farming in Dedza.
‘This is an Irish potato farm. And I am the owner. I learned this type of farming from Dedza prison. I am getting enough yield to sustain my whole family. We are not hungry anymore […] The knowledge that I got there [in prison], nobody can take it away from me. It is a part of me.’
 I am particularly impressed by his choice of potato!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Masangano Case and Prison Conditions

A photographer named João Silva took photos of Malawian prisons in 2005 one of which is the infamous photo of prisoners sleeping Maula Prison which appeared in the even more infamous New York Times article in 2005  "The Forgotten of Africa, Wasting Away in Jails Without Trial"


One of the photos is also being used in the header of our website without my having realised it before today.

I would encourage people to have a look at the photos to get a feel for the conditions which are still currenly in place in the prisons in Malawi.

There had been a brief hope for prisoners that conditions would improve after the Gable Manangano case [Masangano v Attorney General & Others (15 of 2007) [2009] MWHC 31 (9 November 2009] which was a case taken by the applicant in which he avered that ever since his imprisonment, he and his fellow prisoners had been subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment which is an infringement of his rights which he submitted was non-derogable as per Section 44 of the Malawian Constitution. Among other things he avered that prisoners were subjected to:

(a)    Insufficient or total lack of ordinary diet which only comprises maize meal (nsima) and peas or beans contrary to the 3rd Schedule of the Prison Regulations in the Prisons Act Cap 9:02 of the Laws of Malawi.

(b)    Insufficient or total lack of food stuffs in that only one meal is normally served per day with no breakfast contrary to the 3rd Schedule of the Prison Regulations.

(c)    Insufficient or total lack of clothing and accessories such as 2 pairs of shorts, singlets, soap, a pair of sandals contrary to the 4th Schedule of the Prison Regulations.

(d)    Insufficient or total lack of cell equipment such as blankets, sleeping mats and mugs contrary to the 5th Schedule of the Prison Regulations.

(e)    Insufficient or total lack of space in the cells as they are always congested in a total number of 120 persons that are made to occupy a cell meant for 80 persons.

(f)    That the prisoners are denied the right to chat with their relatives as the prison warders close the visitors’ room so that prisoners should not have a chance of chatting.

(g)    That the prisoners are harassed and physically tortured by the warders in front of their relatives.

(h)    That only prisoners with money have access to communication.

(i)    That prisoners are denied access to medical attention and the right dose for a person to fully recover and are even asked the offence they committed before receiving any medical attention and are even sometimes given wrong dosage.
The court in it's judgement noted that overcrowding was aggravated by poor ventilation and which contributed to the death of 259 inmates in a space of about 18 months [which had been set out by the Prison Inspectorate] and in its final paragraphs gave the Respondents 18 months to improve conditions. The court stated:
In this case we hold the view that packing inmates in an overcrowded cell with poor ventilation with little or no room to sit or lie down with dignity but to be arranged like sardines violates basic human dignity and amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment and therefore unconstitutional. Accordingly we direct the Respondents to comply with this judgment within a period of eighteen months by taking concrete steps in reducing prison overcrowding by half, thereafter periodically reducing the remainder to eliminate overcrowding and by improving the ventilation in our prisons and, further, by improving prison conditions generally. Parliament through the Prisons Act and Prison Regulations set minimum standards on the treatment of prisoners in Malawi, which standards are in tandem with international minimum standards in the area.

Parliament should therefore make available to the Respondents adequate financial resources to enable them meet their obligations under the law to comply with this judgment and the minimum standards set in the Prisons Act and Prison Regulations.
Unfortunately at the time of writing the judgement has not been complied with as it was supposed to have been by May 2011 and there appears to be no appeal on the horizon. In my very brief experience it appears to be the case that the High Court is handing down very progressive, human rights based judgements which are simply ignored by the relevant authorities or are unknown by the lower court magistrates who are dealing with the vast majority of cases.

The government of Malawi has recently been encouraged by Open Society initiative for South Africa (OSISA) in a report on pre-trial detention in Malawi to improve the systems for monitoring conditions in prisons and that the prison service needs to seek and advocate for alternatives to excessive and prolonged pre-trial detention. The report noted that the service should similarly aspire to increase self-sufficiency and seek more environmentally-friendly, low-cost and low-tech solutions to some of the practical challenges relating to conditions of detention and importantly a comprehensive cost analysis of improvements in the prison system should be undertaken in order to accurately inform the budget of the prison service which should be informed by the 2003 Prisons Bill and the Masangano decision. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

United Nations Mediation process

The United Nations Mediation process between CSO's and the Malawian government is due to start on August 25th. Voice Mhone has been announced as the chair for the CSO's and is also on the Council for Non-Governmental Organisations (Congoma). In a constructive step the CSO's appointed 6 leaders to the group who have not been particularly critical of the government in order not to derail the discussion before they start.

Some of the key issues which leaders say must be dealt with immediately are the removal of the Presidents wife from her paid position as "ambassador for safe motherhood", the assurance of freedom of expression, especially for academics and an end to the current deterioration of the relationship between the President and Vice President, Joyce Banda. Importantly leaders would also like to see the establishment of a truely independent investigation into the violence which broke out during the July 20th protests

Ban Ki Moon has welcomed the development in a statement issued on the 17th August  saying:

"The Secretary-General considers the communiqué an important step towards a dialogue process. He calls on the Malawian stakeholders to continue their efforts to create a political and social atmosphere conducive to addressing the multifaceted challenges in the country.

The Secretary-General is pleased with and strongly supports the facilitation role played by Mr. João Honwana, Director at the UN Department of Political Affairs. He reiterates the UN's readiness to continue its facilitation efforts as requested by the parties"

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Background to Pamodzi and IRLM project

We have a new background document at the bottom of our website homepage by Rachel Power, Michael Irvine, Paula Jennings and Anne-Marie Blayney presented to the joint Trinity/UCD Development Seminar series on 'Development and the Rule of Law', on Friday 21st January this year.

Corruption Perception Index

Every year Transparency International publish their Corruption Perception Index. It’s a guide to bribery and graft in every country in the world and based on information from respected organisations such as the World Bank, EU, OEC.  The 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index shows that nearly three quarters of the 178 countries in the index score below five, on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt). These results indicate a serious corruption problem. Malawi received a 3.4 for 2010, highly corrupt.

Transparency International advocates stricter implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption, the only global initiative that provides a framework for putting an end to corruption.

Malawi-Ireland Relations

As you may know by now our project is Irish Aid funded. The Republic of Ireland officially opened its resident Mission in Malawi in June, 2008. Click on the link to check out some other projects being funded by Irish Aid in Malawi

The summary of Irish Aids new Malawi Country Strategy Paper 2010-2014 is set out here

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August 17th Vigil postponed

Today's planned vigil by civil society leaders has been called off amidst interventions by international organisations and the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) whom have called for dialogue between the Civil Society Organisations (CSO’s) and the government. In addition there was some confusion as to whether an injunction which had been in place for the July 20th protests, which had turned violent resulting in the detahs of at east 19 people, had been renewed on the eve of the planned August 17th vigil. The previous injunction had expired on July 21st and this new application was supposed to have been obtained by the 1st of August according to the Daily Times (Which I have found to be the most balanced newspaper here).  Representatives from a number of civil society groups attended the court proceedings along with opposition parties whom had backed the vigil saying that the President had not addresseed the issues which faced the country.

The president had spend the weekend traveling the country mobilising police officers in advance of the vigil. The President, Bingu wa Mutharika, had announced that he was forming an independent commission of inquiry into the July killings on August 10th but his stance had become ever more confrontational over the past number of day and I think there is very little doubt that the vigil could have spilled over into violence. The President had reportedly told demonstration organisers that he would “meet them on the streets” if they went ahead with the vigils. I would tentatively welcome this peaceful dialogue but would be somewhat pessimistic (like a lot of Malawians) about how it will turn out, although a joint communique from the UN facilitated meeting between CSO's and government set out specific steps to move forward yesterday. There are mutterings of the vigil being postponed until the 20th of September, but for now that has not been confirmed.

The Malawi Human Rights Commission also yesterday launched its preliminary findings into their investigation into the assault of civil society activists and journalists which occurred during the demonstration on July 20th at a conference chaired by John Kapito in Lilongwe. They noted that at least 15 persons died from gunshot wounds, two from potential gun shot wounds and one of suffocation.  They also noted that of the 40 casulties registered at two hospitals, Queen Elizabeth and Mzuzu central hospital that 34 were gunshot related. The report has also made recommendations to the President, his government and the Malawi Police Service, calling on them to ensure human rights are respected in all circumstances including in the context of maintaining law and order and that a culture of tolerance should be adopted to avert a repeat of July 20th. Interestingly the reports also called on civil society orgaisations to give dialogue a chance before calling for another demonstration.

Human Rights Watch investigations have already found that on July 20, Malawi police officers responded with excessive or unnecessary lethal force against initially peaceful protests in Malawi’s main cities. Human Rights Watch documented abuses during the protests, including beatings, arbitrary arrests, and unnecessary restrictions on the media and approximately 500 people were arrested. In advance of the postponement of the vigil they had also called for the police in Malawi to use restraint during future protests to avoid repeating the use of excessive and lethal force that had been employed on July 20th. Human Rights Watch have also documented the cases of at least seven unarmed people whom they say were fatally shot by police and eight wounded during the protests, none of whom were actively involved in the riots.

On a final note some people have been saying on Twitter that the vigil has silently taken place today as business is at standstill and there is nobody around the various city centers. This is possibly the only way a peaceful demonstration could take place in the country at the moment, given that despite the vigil being called off the town centers are still filled with police officers and certain protests radio stations have apparently been turned off.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Embassy Advisory Note

Hello all,

As you may be aware, it is expected that renewed demonstrations will occur in all major urban centres in Malawi on Wednesday, 17 August. These demonstrations are planned to last for 48 hours. As occurred with the events of 20/21 July last, a very real possibility exists that the upcoming demonstrations could evolve into a situation of civil unrest which may present a threat to the safety of persons in their vicinity; as well as the possibility of seeing a resurgence of looting/rioting. A strong police, and possibly military, presence is anticipated over the period.

It should be noted that the Embassy received no reports of any Irish or European persons being subject to violence, threats, or similar conduct arising from the events of 20/21 July – and has not learned anything to suggest that this may change for any upcoming events. Nonetheless, the Embassy would consider it advisable for citizens to exercise caution, remain vigilant and avoid large gatherings and demonstrations where possible. Keeping informed of events and developments through local media and otherwise may assist in assessing the local security situation.

Should any persons become aware of significant developments arising from the demonstrations that may be of assistance in advising other Irish citizens in Malawi, please feel free to pass along such information to the Embassy.

Please also be aware that should you need to update your details (change of address, phone number, emergency contact etc.) with the Embassy, or are aware of Irish nationals in country who may wish to register with the Embassy, this can be done through our online registration system.

Real Reason Aid has been Withheld in Malawi

An article appears on today's Face of Malawi website which claims that the real reason aid is being withheld from Malawi is due to the economic recession and is being done so under cover of governance and democracy issues. Ireland even gets a mention in the process. While I dont agree with most of the tenor of the article I found the final paragraph interesting from a Human Rights perspective. It states:

"Another point is that western countries are two faced; they say Bingu is a dictator and violates human rights, yet they tolerate regimes like Saudi Arabia, Israel, who are by far the two biggest human rights violators on the globe. The reason they do this is because Saudi Arabia has oil, and Jews have a large share in the U.S economy and have very influential roles in society, while Malawi is just a poor country with very little valuable resources, if they withhold aid they lose nothing.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Amnesty International and Aug 17th Protests

Amnesty International is urging the authorities to allow peaceful protests to take place without fear of violent reprisals, arbitrary arrests or intimidation by security forces and that any use of force is proportionate. It is also calling for immediate, impartial and thorough investigations into police conduct during the 20 July protests, in which 18 people were killed and scores injured after police fired live ammunition at the demonstrators

See full leaflet here​oncenter/actions/uaa24411.pdf

Saturday, August 13, 2011

While the cats away..

In honor of actually being able to upload photos for once I would like you to meet some important people in our project. This is Livingstone, the door opening cat.  He is not amused.

Outside the house we are renting for the first two months is Hastings, the guard dog who is afraid to be petted. As you can see he looks vicious there napping in the shade, ready to pounce.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

First Week Report

So I've been here for almost a week now, having left Ireland last Thursday and arrived in Lilongwe on Friday morning.  The week has flown for me and I know Ruth can barely believe that she has been here for three. Lilongwe life runs at a different pace to Dublin, with most employment starting between 7.30 and 8am (a far cry from Irish court starting times) and finishing before sundown so it is safe to get home. Most places, bar restaurants and pubs close before 7 and it seems it’s not unusual to be in bed for 10pm. Certainly a change for me, given I used to lecture until that exact time 4 nights a week until a few weeks ago and it is taking some getting used to. House hunting, phone unblocking and generally getting to grips with every day life has also been time consuming but we’ve been very fortunate to meet some very lovely and helpful locals and expats who have guided us on our way. 

We've had a pretty busy lead in week, with Ruth and myself meeting with the Legal Aid Bureau to discuss the role we will be taking within the organisation and how we would undertake our work and the work we will be doing with other partners. It was a very positive meeting and I know we are both very excited to start proper as Legal Aid advocates next Monday. We've also been drafting up letters, reports, minutes, amending MOU's and reading up on the myriad of legislation, case law and reports in respect of the Criminal Justice system in Malawi. While it’s been a lot to take in, it’s all very exciting. We've also had a few meetings rearranged and difficulties tracking down others but this is something we are just going to have to get used to.

Other matters which may effect the work we will be doing include fuel shortages and political turmoil. On Monday the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) announced a 10% cut in the value of the Malawian currency (The Kwacha).  The RBM is currently maintaining the line that the devaluation is not due to international pressure, specifically pressure from the IMF to ‘ease the exchange rate’, and was independently made by the state. The recent cut in foreign aid has resulted in a lack of foreign exchange (ForEx) and rising fuel prices. The U.K. withdrew aid worth $550 million for Malawi in June after the government deported a British envoy who criticized President Mutharika in a leaked memorandum. The kwacha will now sell for about 165 to the US$ from the previous of 152 although this is still significantly short of the value that is available on the black market.  Malawi’s central bank governor has urged businesses not to raise prices after the devaluation and has said exporters must deposit their foreign exchange in banks in the country and that tourists must pay their bills in foreign exchange.  It will be interesting to see how this affects the ongoing worry of the fuel shortage. 

Malawi has been gripped by an acute fuel shortage that has paralyzed the operations of different sectors of the economy. This is evidenced by the scarcity of diesel, petrol and paraffin and the massively long fuel queues running along the road by every fuel station when they get fuel in. The major reason why Malawi is having this fuel shortage problem is shortage of foreign exchange capital to buy fuel energy imported through neighbouring countries. Just getting access to a fuel pump can be a difficulty at the moment and with only 3,000 kwacha  (€13) worth of fuel available at the pump per car you wont be traveling very far.

In addition the political situation is tumultuous with another set of anti-government protests upcoming on the 17th August. Two days of mass protests rocked the country in July in one of the largest protests in the nation's history and most businesses will shut down on at least the 17th. The U.S. has also suspended a $350 million aid accord to improve electricity supplies after the July protests on Human Rights grounds.

We also spent a morning visiting the Cara Malawi funded project in Kaphuka, a village about 2 hours south-east of Lilongwe.  Cara Malawi's work has transformed the village.  In April 2008 Cara Malawi partnered with Irish Aid for its project to supply electricity to three points in Kaphuka the Health Centre, the School and the Maize Mill .With the help of Cara Malawi a Maize Mill has been built and, when the electricity is installed, it will transform the lives of women and children of the village, as the pounding of maize (the staple diet) is an arduous task. It will also create employment opportunities for the villagers. The electricity installation is currently in progress and should be working by the end of September.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

IRLM Website and Twitter

We have set up a website for the project and you can view it right here

Its has some background information on the project, will inform you of upcoming fundraising events and you can even directly donate online.

The website also has a link to our twitter if you would like to keep up to date with both our own project and various penal reform projects around the globe

Pre-Trial Detention & Legal Aid in Malawi

I've written a guest post for the Human Rights in Ireland Blog on our project and you can find it right here