The African Policy Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF)

The African Policy Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF) has called for the Malawian police to uphold international standards on the use of lethal force and the right to assembly – ahead of planned demonstrations on August 17th.In a statement issued from the organisation’s headquarters in South Africa, APCOF said that the deaths of protesters in Malawi during previous demonstrations on the 20th July were deeply regrettable and could almost certainly have been prevented or at least limited if basic rights were upheld – and if the police had adhered to international standards on the use of lethal force. APCOF called on the Malawian police to take 4 critical steps to prevent another tragedy and also called on regional and continental bodies to act to prevent further bloodshed.

The APCOF statement reads:

A repeat of last month’s tragic loss of life during planned protests on the 17th of August can – and must – be avoided at all cost. This will require a critical review of events by the State, the police and civil society and a clear and unequivocal commitment by the Malawian government to the immediate introduction of effective public order policing strategies to protect both the rights of citizens and protesters. International and regional instruments – such as the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and the Southern African Regional Police Commissioners Cooperation Organisation (SARPCCO) Code of Conduct (to which Malawi is a signatory and currently holds the office of Secretary) – strive to ensure that the policing of assemblies and demonstrations uphold international and African Human Rights. The UN Code of Conduct and the Basic Principles are clear that the use of force should be governed by the principles of reasonableness, necessity and proportionality and should be subject to review. The use of lethal force should always be limited to defence of life. These principles are incorporated into the SARPPCO Code of Conduct. In light of the unnecessary loss of life during the Malawian protests, APCOF calls on the Malawi police to:

1) Desist from the use of live ammunition during any future demonstrations and instead employ internationally acceptable mechanisms for public order policing in line with the tenets in the international and regional instruments to which Malawi is a signatory;

2) Institute the independent review of the response to the demonstrations, agreed to by President Mutharika, which should include responses from the police, civil society and government, and should ensure that lessons are used to prevent similar tragedies in the future. These lessons could include the:

• Manner in which notice is given of demonstrations;

• Extent to which the police are trained and equipped to manage demonstrations;

• Reform of laws on the use of force and the right to assembly that are at variance with international standards and the right to recourse;

• Need for a standard review of policing of all demonstrations; and,

• Value of appropriately skilled and recognised crowd marshals.

3) Hasten to operationalise the Independent Police Oversight Mechanism in Malawi, which was passed into law in 2010.

4) Desist from harassment and intimidation of the Human Rights Commission and respect the vital role that it plays in promoting and deepening democracy and human rights in Malawi.

APCOF urges the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association to exercise his mandate to review recent events in Malawi and to report on violations of these rights as well as discrimination, threats or use of violence, harassment, persecution, intimidation or reprisals directed at people exercising these rights, and to draw the attention of the Council and the High Commissioner to issues of serious concern.

Furthermore, that the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) exercise its mandate to review events in Malawi and revisit its 2006 resolution to host a meeting on building human rights in the police and military in Africa.

Finally, APCOF asks that the Southern African Regional Police Commissioners Cooperation Organisation (SARPCCO) clearly articulate its stance on the events that took place in Malawi on 20 and 21 July 2011 and provide guidance to the Malawian police on the management of future protests in accordance with the principles promoted by the SARPCCO Code of Conduct and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force.

The improper policing of assembly and demonstration, especially when it results in the death of protesters, will not deliver peace and security. It will exacerbate and prolong tensions, while eroding vital community trust in police. Therefore, we urge the Malawi Police and the Malawian government to adopt the international principles on policing demonstrations and use of force in their response to all future assemblies and gatherings. We are encouraged by the current dialogue and urge Malawian citizens to demonstrate peacefully and within the parameters of the law to ensure the threat to life and property is reduced.