Malawi’s key donors and heads of missions have asked government to protect all its citizens, including human rights activists.
In a statement signed by German Ambassador Dr. Peter Woeste, who now chairs the diplomatic missions in the country, the diplomats also advised both the government and civil society to continue with the United Nations (UN) facilitated dialogue to continue and restore public confidence.
“Development partners call for the protection and safety of all citizens, including human rights defenders,” reads the statement in part.
The donor statement comes after the Malawi Human Rights Commission last month accused President Bingu wa Mutharika of inciting violence against critics that has led to petrol bomb attacks on the properties of two leading activists.
Mutharika riled activists when he threatened attacks against his opponents who staged an unprecedented protest against his government on July 20 this year. The protests, foiled by police, left 20 dead and led to international condemnation.
The home of activist Reverend MacDonald Sembereka was petrol bombed three weeks ago in Balaka while offices of Rafiq Hajat’s Institute for Policy Interaction in Blantyre were set on fire earlier. This prompted the civil society groups to pull out of the UN facilitated mediation talks.
“Reports received from the UN Facilitation Team, the Presidential Contact and Dialogue Group and civil society provide clear indications that the national dialogue can be resumed and that the essential agreement on the dialogue agenda remains intact,” said Woeste in the statement.
“Development partners, therefore, wish to emphasise peaceful and constructive dialogue, commitment to non-violent resolution of problems, and building trust and confidence, while rejecting intimidation…”
Voice Mhone, leader of the civil society team in the dialogue with government, said in an interview yesterday that there is hope for civil society to return to the round table with government.
“What we had requested is that government stops intimidation and attacks on civil society and all citizens… It’s not a demand, but a request and if that is done, we will return to the dialogue,” he said.
But in a statement yesterday, presidential spokesperson Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba accused the civil society dialogue team of breaching the trust and confidence necessary for the dialogue to succeed. He said the civil society should change its dialogue representatives.
“Cooperation and mutual respect between government and their [civil society’s] new team shall serve Malawians more fruitfully,” he said.
In the statement, Ntaba said “it is wrong, naive and ill-conceived” for the civil society or anyone to set conditions or deadlines for government and expect government to comply. He said it is government that should give such conditions.
Malawi’s donors are withholding more than $400 million (about K66 billion) in aid in protest at a law preventing gay marriages and another that lets the government ban newspapers publishing material deemed bad for the public.
Malawi is heavily dependent on foreign aid, with donor funding accounting for 40 percent of official receipts.