U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Malawi
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Malawi, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3118.html [accessed 25 April 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
MALAWIThe Republic of Malawi held its first democratic, multiparty elections since independence in May 1994. President Bakili Muluzi principally relies on the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), which holds 82 of the 177 seats in the National Assembly. The opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), formerly the sole legal party, holds 52 seats. The opposition Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) split over the UDF-AFORD coalition and the continued presence of AFORD Members of Parliament (M.P.'s) in the Cabinet, reducing AFORD's number of MP's to 27. Seven former AFORD M.P.'s and two former MCP M.P.'s sit as independents. AFORD and MCP ended their 9-month boycott of Parliament in March. The legislature demonstrated only limited independence from the executive. In October a High Court judge ruled that cabinet ministers could not also sit as Members of Parliament, potentially affecting 21 seats. The judiciary has demonstrated independence in several high profile political cases, although there are frequent allegations that its decisions result from political bias or bribery. The National Police, headed by the Inspector General of Police under the Ministry of Home Affairs, is responsible for internal security. Although the army is apolitical, the police occasionally called on the army for support. While violence and common crime have become frequent, there was no indication of organized activity in Malawi or abroad by remnants of the Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP), formerly the MCP's paramilitary wing. Despite notable improvements, there continued to be credible allegations of human rights abuses by the police. Malawi is small, densely populated, and landlocked. The economy is predominately agricultural. Over 85 percent of the population derives its income from agriculture. Tobacco remains the primary foreign exchange earner; other cash crops include tea, coffee, and sugar. Foreign aid remains a critical source of income. The Government continued privatizing the ownership of public enterprises. The economy was expected to grow by 7 percent in real terms; the inflation rate was about 15 percent. Annual per capita income is below $200. Wealth remains concentrated in the hands of a small elite. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in many areas, but serious problems remained. The police continued to abuse detainees and to use excessive force in handling criminal suspects. There were instances of deaths of detainees while in, or shortly after release from, police custody. In implementing reforms, the Inspector General of Police stressed public accountability and transparency. Prison conditions remained poor. Lengthy pretrial detention, the inefficient and understaffed judicial system, and limited resources called into question the ability of defendants to receive a timely and, in some cases, a fair trial. High levels of crime prompted angry mobs to execute summarily alleged criminals. The Malawi Broadcasting Corporation inaugurated its second channel, and the Government granted two broadcast licenses, one to a station broadcasting only religious programming and one to a private station scheduled to begin broadcasting in early 1998. By contrast the print media continued to report freely. The Human Rights Commission mandated by the Constitution to explore human rights violations made little progress. Women continued to experience severe societal discrimination, and violence against women and children remained a problem. The Government took steps in its economic development programs to assist disadvantaged women. The Government intimidated civil servant strikers, dispersed them with tear gas, prohibited their peaceful assembly, and arrested, suspended, or transferred strike leaders in an effort to break the union.