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Pressures over homosexual rights
– by Raphael Mweninguwe
The Archbishop Thomas Msusa of Blantyre has told President Mutharika that this controversy is “alien to Malawi”. In his eyes, foreigners are exerting undue pressure on the government. He says the Catholic Church doesn’t support same-sex unions and that the Church will strictly follow its doctrine. The Church strongly condemns acts of homosexuality and considers it sinful for people of the same sex to get married. According to the German government, donors’ are not demanding that Malawi introduce gay marriage, but do not want minorities to be prosecuted and criminalised as their human rights must be respected.
Several other Church and Muslim leaders have joined Archbishop Msusa in condemning gay rights and have called on the president not to promote reform to allow same-sex marriages. They argued that if such a change was introduced for the sake of money, it would be better to “let the donors keep it,” referring to $ 80 million aid from the EU and World Bank. The money is being withheld to the country until several conditions are met. Human rights are a key issue in international assistance, and donors are in dialogue with the Malawian government about this, including the respect for minority rights. Funding was frozen three years ago. Donors argued that governance was inadequate in Malawi.
In December 2015, police in Lilongwe arrested a 19-year old and a 39-year old man on allegations that they engaged in homosexual acts. They were charged. But donor governments as well as local and international human rights organisations condemned the arrests and demanded their immediate release.
In view of this pressure, the Malawi government released the suspects. It also moved further to reaffirm it would not enforce laws that criminalise homosexuality. Law experts, however, say that such a moratorium of laws is illegal because the government itself is not above the law.
A local NGO is fighting for minority rights including those of gays and lesbians. It is named Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) and has called on religious leaders to respect the rights of the minorities. It argues that Malawi is a secular state where religious beliefs and culture should not be used as basis for oppressing others. Its leader, Gift Trapence, says that “religious leaders are not adhering to the Constitution or international laws that protect people’s rights”. Malawi’s constitution grants people human rights and individual freedom, and it has joined the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a multilateral treaty that endorses human rights. However, national law still does not reflect this stance.
Raphael Mweninguwe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.