The former head of state and five others were brought to trial for the alleged extrajudicial execution of three government ministers and a member of parliament in 1983. A detainee died in police custody in suspicious circumstances. At least two people were sentenced to death but there were no executions. Following a constitutional conference held in February, parliament approved a new Constitution in May which came into force immediately. The new Constitution contains a Bill of Rights and provides for the establishment of a national Human Rights Commission and an Ombudsman's Office to investigate alleged human rights abuses, but these had not been instituted by the end of the year. Despite strong calls for its abolition, the new Constitution retained the death penalty. Former Life-President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who lost power as a result of elections in May 1994, was brought to trial with five others in connection with the alleged extrajudicial execution of three cabinet ministers and a member of parliament in May 1983. A commission of inquiry appointed in 1994 by President Bakili Muluzi to investigate the deaths reported in January. It concluded that the four politicians had been killed for political reasons (see Amnesty International Reports 1986 and 1995). Charged with former President Banda were two of his close associates, Cecilia Kadzamira and John Tembo, a former government minister, and three senior police officers. Their trial, on charges of conspiracy to murder and to pervert the course of justice, began in July. Six other police officers were also charged with conspiracy to murder in connection with the 1983 deaths, but in August these charges were withdrawn to facilitate their being called as prosecution witnesses in the trial of former President Banda and his co-accused. In December a charge of conspiracy to murder against Cecilia Kadzamira was dropped by the prosecution. Later that month former President Banda and his co-accused were acquitted of all charges. The prosecution announced that it would appeal against the verdict. Four officials of the former ruling Malawi Congress Party (MCP) were also charged in July in connection with death threats made in 1992 against Roman Catholic bishops who had been critical of the MCP's human rights record (see Amnesty International Report 1993). Their trial had not begun by the end of the year. In April General Menken Chigawa, Commander of the Army, was killed amid rumours that an attempted military coup had been foiled. Thomas Denson Chibonga, a civilian detained in connection with the killing, died in suspicious circumstances later that month while in police custody. The police said that he was killed when he threw himself from a police vehicle in an escape attempt but other sources alleged that he had died as a result of torture by the police. No autopsy was known to have been carried out and there had been no inquest by the end of the year. At least two people were sentenced to death after being convicted of murder but there were no executions. In an Open Letter published in February, Amnesty International urged the constitutional conference to abolish the death penalty. Subsequently, after the new Constitution was promulgated, Amnesty International reiterated its call for abolition and called for the existing moratorium on executions to be maintained until that was achieved. In June Amnesty International called upon the government to ratify those international human rights treaties which it had not yet ratified. In November the organization wrote to the government calling for an independent and impartial investigation into the death in police custody of Thomas Denson Chibonga.

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