Malawi police face legal action over failure to investigate alleged rapes

A group of lawyers in Malawi is taking legal action against the police for failing to investigate allegations of rape against their officers during post-election protests.

Mphatso Iphani, a spokesperson for the Women Lawyers Association of Malawi, said that three months since the alleged attacks, “no concrete action has been taken, despite the sheer amount of evidence that the girls and women were assaulted”.

The association, a not-for-profit organisation made up of lawyers from different disciplines, is preparing to file lawsuits against officers.

“Our hope is to get justice for the women who were assaulted and punish the perpetrators. Finally, something concrete is happening, unlike with the other stakeholders who have been just sitting on this,” she said.

Since May last year, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets protesting against the alleged mismanagement of the general election that secured the return to office of the incumbent Peter Mutharika.

Demonstrators set up roadblocks in the capital last October, leading to the deployment of police. One police officer was killed and officers stormed the area, spraying teargas and attacking the public.

A human rights organisation documented accounts from women and girls who said they had been sexually assaulted by police officers. This led the Malawi Human Rights Commission, a state-funded institution led by government-appointed commissioners, to institute an investigation that found one girl under 18 had allegedly been sexually assaulted and seven women allegedly raped during the demonstration.

The Women Lawyers Association, the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition and the Women’s Legal Resources Centre are among the bodies that have condemned the alleged acts.

On Thursday, people gathered in the capital, Lilongwe, calling on police to step up efforts to investigate the allegations.

However, the police maintain they will only act once their own investigation has concluded.

“The latest is that we’ve launched a full criminal investigation following the recommendation from the Malawi Human Rights Commission and [our] commission of enquiry to prosecute the perpetrators,” said James Kadazera, a spokesperson for the Malawi police.

Malawi Police

Kadazera said the results of the investigation should be released in the coming week, but rights activists are sceptical.

Maggie Kathewera Banda, executive director of the Women’s Legal Resources Centre, called on the police to take the allegations more seriously.