• Alarming trends facing protest movements


    40th Session of the Human Rights Council
    Statement delivered during General Debate (Monday 11 March)

    CIVICUS is deeply alarmed that protest movements find themselves on the frontlines of a global attack on democracy and human rights. Across the world, protest movements are being met by campaigns of violence and aggression from states that are increasingly brazen about defying global human rights commitments.

    At a time when many hard-won gains are being directly threatened by state and non-state actors, we urge the states present here today to recall that it was people organising in protest and civil disobedience who rolled back slavery, overturned colonial and racist systems of governance, and fought for women’s rights.

    Today, these struggles persist. Yet governments are increasingly responding to legitimate demands of protesters and their movements with absolute intolerance, including extra-judicial killings and torture. 

    CIVICUS echoes the concerns raised by the High Commissioner regarding the brutal crackdown on protests in Zimbabwe, where scores of unarmed civilians have been killed and children as young as 12 arrested, as well as the systemic campaign of brutality deployed against peaceful protesters in Sudan. 

    We ask all states present here today: what measures will you take to ensure that emerging protest movements from Serbia to Algeria to Malawi are nurtured rather than repressed?


  • Country recommendations on civic space for Universal Periodic Review

    CIVICUS makes joint UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space in Honduras, Malawi and Maldives

    CIVICUS and its partners have made joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 3 countries in advance of the 36th UPR session (May 2020). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.

    Honduras (Español) - En Honduras, CIVICUS, la Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe para la Democracia (REDLAD) y la Asociación de Organismos No Gubernamentales (ASONOG) abordan sus preocupaciones relativas a la criminalización y represión de las protestas, fenómeno de larga data que afecta particularmente a estudiantes y personas defensoras del territorio y el medio ambiente, y que se intensificó en reacción a las protestas gatilladas por los cuestionados resultados de las elecciones de noviembre de 2017. El informe también aborda el tema de los persistentemente elevados niveles de violencia que hacen de Honduras uno de los países más peligrosos del mundo para las personas defensoras de derechos humanos y periodistas, y en particular para quienes denuncian la corrupción y los impactos de megaproyectos extractivos.

    Malawi- CIVICUS, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP)address unwarranted restrictions on civic space since Malawi’s last UPR examination. Acute implementation gaps were found regarding the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression as well as issues relating to protection of HRDs. We remain alarmed that Malawi has failed to bring its criminal code into compliance with the principles of the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) regarding criminal penalties for same-sex conduct, despite promising to uphold these agreements.

    Maldives - The submission by CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA highlights that while there have been some civic space reforms undertaken by the new government that came to power in November 2018 there are still implementation gaps. There have been ongoing reports of harassment of and threats against human rights defenders, particularly by extremist groups, and there has been a lack of effective action by law enforcement agencies. There are also concerns by the slow progress in undertaking comprehensive reforms of the laws related to the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly.

    See all of our UPR submissions here.


  • Fed up with corruption, civil society organises Malawians to take to the streets

    CIVICUS speaks to Timothy Pagonachi Mtambo, a human rights defender and the ex-ecutive director of Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) in Malawi. CHRR recently led protests in the capital Lilongwe. Mtambo explains why the protest happened, the response of the government and the state of civic space in Malawi.


  • Key Lessons from Testing Non-Traditional Development Approaches in Malawi

    By Dinah Sandoval & Alexis Banks,Root Change

    This article is part of the #StoriesOfResilience series, coordinated by CIVICUS to feature groups and activists on their journey to promote better resourcing practices for civil society and to mobilise meaningful resources to sustain their work.

    Real change happens when local communities are in the lead—leveraging their assets, ideas, and expertise to implement solutions to their own problems. Unfortunately, too often, development initiatives bypass local communities and local resources in designing and carrying out programmes. At Root Change, we aim to break this pattern within the development sector. Our recent work with the USAID-funded Local Works programme has given us the opportunity to test alternative approaches to the traditional development model.

    Over the course of two years, we teamed up with the innovative thinkers at Keystone Accountability and the leading Malawian civil society organisation Youth and Society (YAS) to convene two social labs in Malawi. The labs brought together diverse local stakeholders to create, test, and reflect on short-term experiments to address local challenges, while improving trust, voice, and accountability at a local level.

    This work surfaced critical insights about the importance of listening to communities before engaging, developing partnerships based on trust and mutual accountability, and creating an environment for communities to recognise and leverage local resources. Below, we share the key lessons that we learned from each approach.

    Listening Tour

    Group 3 meeting Malawi

    To gain an understanding of the climate around foreign assistance and development in Malawi, our work began with a listening tour with 120 diverse stakeholders throughout the country. We asked the simple question: "What does it feel like to be on the receiving end of aid?"

    Participants voiced frustration with the “extractive” nature of endless surveys, needs assessments, and field visits. Most could not recall a time when results were shared and explored through dialogue and reflection and some believe that these learning and evaluative exercises are simply ways to validate the power holder’s pre-existing agendas.

    From the listening tour, we identified four recurring development “traps”:

    1. restrictive financing that has created dependence;
    2. lack of established channels for constituent engagement and feedback;
    3. capacity development efforts that ignore complexity; and
    4. extractive measurement practices that prevent communities from benefiting from data they produce.

    A Local Partnership Based on Mutual Accountability

    The idea to convene the social labs was born out of the listening tour. However, the feedback we had received made it clear that we needed to radically rethink the way we, as international NGOs, engaged with local actors. We needed a trusted local partner and an alternative partnership model.

    YAS was nominated by many during the listening tour as a dynamic local change maker with a deep and trusted social network in Malawi. Unlike traditional, highly directive funding relationships, Root Change and Keystone Accountability sought to establish a partnership with YAS built on respect, mutual accountability, collaborative decision making, financial transparency, and dignity. YAS was involved throughout the entire decision-making process: facilitating programme activities, creating tools and engaging as an equal partner in budget and project planning discussions. The "value of radical equality was present in our partnership and in the social lab," confirmed YAS founder, Charles Kajoloweka.

    In order to create a partnership based on mutual accountability, we needed to develop a new set of skills. The teams at Root Change and Keystone Accountability had to develop a comfort with letting go of control, engaging authentically, genuinely believing in the capacity of the local partner, and accepting that there are many ways to achieve our shared goals.

    Social Labs & Micro-Action Grants

    Two social labs were launched – one in Rumphi in the North and another in Mulanje in the South – through a 5-day design workshop that convened representatives from civil society, district governments, community leaders, and citizens. Over 60 people participated in each lab to identify local problems, design, and test solutions through two-month experiments called micro-actions. They formed 11 teams to lead micro-actions ranging from incorporating citizen feedback into local government decision making, to drafting a citizen charter to hold local NGOs accountable for the projects they implement. Every two months, teams came back together to reflect on the results of their micro-actions and learning, and iterate on their designs.

    Each team received US $500 micro-grants to facilitate transportation and meetings to carry out their micro-actions. We did not require teams to submit traditional grant reports, rather short feedback surveys were used to enable discussions among lab participants about the use of funds by the entire social lab. Through these discussions, the lab itself surfaced and resolved issues of misuse and distrust related to the grant, building internal accountability.

    The Changemaker Innovation Challenge

    Citizen voice group

    Throughout the experimentation process, the social labs’ teams encountered a systemic and cultural challenge created by the foreign aid system: demand for allowances (or monetary compensation). In the beginning, teams struggled to engage community members in their micro-action activities because community members requested allowances to participate.

    To tackle this problem, the teams decided to crowd-source a solution: they published a solicitation in the national newspaper to identify innovative ideas to increase participation without allowances, and called it the Changemakers Innovation Challenge. Of the many submissions from throughout the country, three winners were selected to join the lab and test out their recommendations. All three proposed to engage community members in the entire lifecycle of the micro-action experiments, from project identification to implementation. They argued that involvement was critical to fostering transparency, accountability, and ownership of the experiments, which they anticipated would drive greater participation. Their approaches are being tested and the initial feedback indicates that the demand for allowances is no longer a substantial obstacle. “That tells you that we have solutions locally,” said Kajoloweka.

    Through Local Works, we have had the opportunity to explore alternative models of development that surface and leverage local resources. While reflecting on the social labs' sustainability and its participants, Kajoloweka said “today they are no longer ‘participants’, today they are active players, they are the owners of the social lab. They have even opened their own bank account and started putting together their own resources into this initiative."

    Get in touch with Root Change through theirwebsite or follow@RootChange on Twitter


  • Lecciones clave de probar métodos de desarrollo no tradicionales en Malawi

    Por Dinah Sandoval y Alexis Banks,Root Change

    Este artículo es parte de la serie #HistoriasDeResiliencia, coordinada por CIVICUS para destacar los esfuerzos de grupos y activistas que promueven mejores prácticas de financiación y movilización de recursos valiosos para la sociedad civil.

    El cambio real ocurre cuando las comunidades locales están liderando, aprovechando sus recursos, ideas y experiencia para implementar soluciones a sus propios problemas. Desafortunadamente, con mucha frecuencia, las iniciativas de desarrollo subestiman a las comunidades y los recursos locales en el diseño y ejecución de sus programas. En Root Change deseamos romper este patrón dentro del sector del desarrollo y gracias a nuestro trabajo reciente con el programa “Local Works”, financiado por USAID, tuvimos la oportunidad probar enfoques alternativos al modelo de desarrollo tradicional en Malawi.

    Durantes dos años, trabajamos junto a Keystone Accountability, una organización innovadora, y a Youth and Society (YAS), una organización de la sociedad civil líder en Malawi, para implementar dos laboratorios sociales en este país africano. Los laboratorios reunieron a diversos actores locales para crear, probar y reflexionar sobre experimentos a corto plazo para atender desafíos locales, integrar las voces de la comunidad y mejorar la confianza y la responsabilidad a nivel local.

    Este trabajo nos dejó lecciones importantes sobre la importancia de escuchar a las comunidades antes de implementar acciones, de establecer relaciones locales basadas en la confianza y la responsabilidad mutua, y de crear un entorno apto para que las comunidades reconozcan y aprovechen los recursos locales. A continuación, compartimos los métodos que utilizamos y las lecciones clave que aprendimos.

    Gira de escucha

    Group 3 meeting Malawi

    Para comprender mejor el clima sobre la ayuda extranjera y el desarrollo en Malawi, nuestro trabajo comenzó con una visita a 120 actores ​​diversos en todo el país, a quienes les hicimos esta simple pregunta: "¿cómo se siente ser el receptor de este tipo de ayuda?"

    Los participantes expresaron su frustración con la naturaleza "extractiva" de interminables encuestas, evaluaciones de necesidades y visitas de campo realizadas por los donantes y organizaciones internacionales. La mayoría no pudo recordar un momento en que les compartieron algún resultado o se exploraron junto ellos mediante el diálogo y la reflexión. Algunos creen que estas actividades de aprendizaje y evaluación son simplemente formas de validar las agendas preexistentes de quienes ostentan el poder.

    En este tour de escucha identificamos cuatro "trampas" recurrentes en los esfuerzos de desarrollo:

    1. el financiamiento restrictivo ha generado dependencia;
    2. faltan canales establecidos para la participación y retroalimentación de los constituyentes; 
    3. los esfuerzos para desarrollar capacidades ignoran la complejidad; y
    4. las prácticas extractivas de medición impiden que las comunidades se beneficien de los datos que ellas mismas producen.

    Una alianza local basada en la responsabilidad mutua

    La idea de crear los laboratorios sociales nació de la gira de escucha. Sin embargo, los comentarios que habíamos recibido dejaron en claro que, como ONG internacionales, debíamos replantearnos radicalmente la forma en que nos relacionamos con los actores locales. Para hacer los laboratorios necesitábamos un socio local de confianza y establecer una alianza bajo un modelo no tradicional.  

    YAS fue nominado por muchos durante la gira de escucha como un dinámico actor local que tiene una red social profunda y confiable en Malawi. A diferencia de las relaciones de financiamiento tradicionales y altamente directivas, Root Change y Keystone Accountability establecieron con YAS una alianza centrada en respeto, responsabilidad mutua, toma de decisiones conjunta, transparencia financiera y dignidad. YAS estuvo involucrado a lo largo de todo el proceso de toma de decisiones: facilitando las actividades del programa, creando herramientas y participando como un socio equitativo en las discusiones sobre el presupuesto y la planificación del proyecto. El "valor de la igualdad radical estuvo presente en nuestra alianza y en el laboratorio social", confirmó el fundador de YAS, Charles Kajoloweka.

    Para lograr esto, los equipos de Root Change y Keystone Accountability debimos desarrollar un conjunto de habilidades nuevas, soltar el control y estar cómodos con ello, involucrarnos de manera auténtica, creer genuinamente en la capacidad del socio local y aceptar que hay muchas maneras de alcanzar los objetivos compartidos.

    Laboratorios sociales y subvenciones para ‘microacciones’ 

    Juntos, lanzamos dos laboratorios sociales –uno en Rumphi en el norte del país y otro en Mulanje en el sur– con un taller de diseño de 5 días que convocó a representantes de la sociedad civil, gobiernos distritales, líderes comunitarios y ciudadanos. Más de 60 personas participaron en cada laboratorio para identificar problemas locales, diseñar y probar soluciones a través de experimentos de dos meses llamados microacciones. Se conformaron 11 equipos para dirigir microacciones que incluían desde incorporar la opinión ciudadana en la toma de decisiones del gobierno local, hasta crear una carta de servicios para responsabilizar a las ONG locales por los proyectos que implementan. Cada dos meses, los equipos se reunían para reflexionar sobre los resultados y aprendizaje de sus microacciones, e iterar sobre sus diseños.

    Cada equipo recibió micro subvenciones de US$500 para gastos de transporte y las reuniones relacionados con sus microacciones. En lugar de solicitarles reportes tradicionales sobre las subvenciones, se utilizaron encuestas cortas de retroalimentación para permitirle a los participantes del laboratorio debatir sobre el uso de los fondos por parte de todo el laboratorio social. A través de estas discusiones, ellos mismos revelaron y resolvieron problemas de desconfianza y mal uso de los fondos, creando responsabilidad interna.

    El desafío “Changemakers Innovation Challenge”

    En el proceso de experimentación, los equipos de los laboratorios sociales encontraron un desafío sistémico y cultural creado por el sistema de ayuda exterior: al inicio fue difícil involucrar a las comunidades en sus actividades de microacción porque las personas estaban acostumbradas a pedir remuneraciones o compensaciones monetarias por participar.

    Los equipos decidieron buscar una solución de manera colectiva: publicaron un anuncio en el periódico nacional para solicitar ideas innovadoras que aumentaran la participación sin remuneraciones, y lo llamaron “Changemaker Innovation Challenge” (en español: Reto Artífices de Cambio). Seleccionaron tres ganadores entre varios que enviaron propuestas desde todo el país, quienes se unieron a los laboratorios para probar sus ideas. Los tres propusieron involucrar a los miembros de la comunidad desde el inicio y en todo el ciclo de vida de los experimentos, desde la identificación del proyecto hasta la implementación, porque esto es fundamental para fomentar la transparencia, la responsabilidad y la apropiación de los experimentos, anticipando que impulsaría la participación sin pagos. Sus enfoques se están probando y la respuesta inicial indica que la demanda por remuneraciones ya no es un gran obstáculo. "Esto dice que ya tenemos soluciones a nivel local", dijo Kajoloweka.

    A través de Local Works, hemos tenido la oportunidad de explorar modelos alternativos de desarrollo que resaltan y aprovechan los recursos locales. Mientras reflexionaba sobre la sostenibilidad de los laboratorios sociales y sus participantes, Kajoloweka dijo: "hoy ya no son ‘participantes’, son actores activos, dueños del laboratorio social. Incluso han abierto su propia cuenta bancaria y comenzaron a reunir sus propios recursos para esta iniciativa".

    Contacte a Root Change a través de su sitio web o siga @RootChange en Twitter


  • MALAWI : « La société civile attend du nouveau gouvernement qu’il donne la priorité aux droits humains »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Michael Kaiyatsa, directeur exécutif par intérim du Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), au sujet des récentes élections présidentielles au Malawi, qui se sont déroulées dans le contexte de la pandémie de COVID-19 et ont abouti à un changement de gouvernement. Le CHRR est une organisation de la société civile (OSC) qui soutient et promeut la démocratie et les droits humains au Malawi. Sa mission est de contribuer à la protection, la promotion et la consolidation de la bonne gouvernance en donnant aux communautés rurales et urbaines les moyens d’exercer leurs droits. Fondée en 1995 par d’anciens étudiants exilés qui sont rentrés dans le pays, attirés par la promesse d’une nouvelle démocratie, elle opère à travers deux programmes principaux : la mobilisation et l’autonomisation des communautés et la surveillance et la formation en matière de droits humains.


    L’élection présidentielle a eu lieu au Malawi en juin 2020, en pleine pandémie de COVID-19 et en pleine crise politique. Quels rôles ont joué la société civile et le système judiciaire dans la réalisation de l’élection ?

    Je pense qu’il est juste de dire que les manifestations menées par les avocats et la société civile ont ouvert la voie à la tenue d’une nouvelle élection présidentielle. L’élection qui s’est tenue le 23 juin 2020 était un nouveau scrutin ordonné par la Cour constitutionnelle du Malawi le 3 février 2020, lorsqu’elle a décidé d’annuler l’élection présidentielle du 21 mai 2019, en invoquant des irrégularités massives.

    Lors de la présidentielle de mai 2019, le président sortant Peter Mutharika a été déclaré vainqueur au scrutin majoritaire à un tour, avec 38,57 % des voix. Cependant, l’opposition a affirmé que l’élection était frauduleuse. Elle a cité, entre autres, l’utilisation présumée de liquide correcteur Tippex pour modifier les chiffres sur les bulletins de vote. Le Dr Lazarus Chakwera, du Malawi Congress Party (MCP), et le Dr Saulos Chilima, du United Transformation Movement, ont demandé à la Cour constitutionnelle d’annuler les résultats de l’élection présidentielle. Tous deux ont invoqué des irrégularités généralisées, notamment l’utilisation de Tippex et des signatures manquantes sur certaines listes de résultats.

    L’arrêt historique de la Cour constitutionnelle, validé ensuite par la Cour suprême, constitue une illustration remarquable de l’indépendance du pouvoir judiciaire dans la démocratie naissante du Malawi. Cependant, la clé de cet arrêt n’est pas seulement l’indépendance du pouvoir judiciaire, mais aussi les mois de manifestations de masse menées par la société civile. Les protestations étaient si soutenues et vigoureuses qu'elles ne pouvaient être ignorées par les institutions démocratiques majeures comme le pouvoir judiciaire. La Human Rights Defenders Coalition, un groupement influent de la société civile, a courageusement conduit des milliers de personnes dans les rues à maintes reprises pour protester contre les résultats erronés des élections de mai 2019. Cette action a été particulièrement importante car elle a considérablement augmenté la pression sur le pouvoir judiciaire et d'autres institutions démocratiques incontournables pour qu'ils agissent comme il se doit. Il ne s’agit pas de sous-estimer le rôle joué par le pouvoir judiciaire. Les juges se sont vraiment levés pour défendre la démocratie. Avant l'arrêt de la Cour constitutionnelle, il y a eu plusieurs tentatives de corruption des juges pour que l'arrêt soit favorable à l’ancien président Mutharika ; un banquier de premier plan a d’ailleurs été arrêté dans le cadre de cette affaire de corruption. De nombreuses menaces ont également pesé sur l’indépendance du pouvoir judiciaire avant la tenue de la nouvelle élection, notamment une tentative du gouvernement de mettre à la retraite anticipée des juges de haut rang de la Cour suprême quelques jours avant l’élection. Les juges auraient pu facilement succomber à cette intimidation et statuer en faveur de Mutharika, mais ils ne l’ont pas fait. Au contraire, ils ont tenu bon et ont rendu un jugement qui a radicalement changé la façon dont le Malawi est gouverné.

    La société civile a contesté avec succès la décision du gouvernement précédent d’imposer un confinement. Pourquoi l’a-t-elle fait, alors que d’autres pays dans le monde mettaient en œuvre des mesures similaires ?

    La société civile voulait que le confinement soit suspendu jusqu’à ce que le gouvernement trouve un moyen de protéger les personnes les plus pauvres et les plus vulnérables. Les groupes de la société civile étaient mécontents que le gouvernement n’ait pas mis en place un filet de sécurité sociale pour les personnes les plus vulnérables pendant le confinement, ce qui a conduit la Human Rights Defenders Coalition et d’autres OSC à demander une décision de justice pour la suspendre. Il s’agit d’un instantané de la réalité que vivent de nombreuses personnes au Malawi au quotidien.

    Il est également important de noter que la demande de la société civile est intervenue après que des milliers de commerçants informels dans les villes de Blantyre et de Mzuzu et dans des districts tels que Thyolo soient descendus dans la rue pour protester contre le confinement avec des banderoles sur lesquelles était écrit « nous préférons mourir du coronavirus plutôt que de mourir de faim ». Beaucoup de ces vendeurs sont des gens qui gagnent leur vie au jour le jour et un confinement aurait pu les affecter gravement. La société civile et les citoyens soupçonnaient de plus en plus le gouvernement d’essayer d’utiliser le confinement pour justifier l’annulation ou le report des élections.

    Quel a été le taux de participation aux élections ? A-t-on craint que les citoyens ne se déplacent pas pour voter par peur de contracter le virus ?

    On craignait que les gens ne se rendent pas aux urnes en grand nombre par peur de la contagion dans le contexte de la pandémie. On craignait, par exemple, qu’étant donné la nécessité de ne pas se réunir en grands groupes et de maintenir une distance sociale, les citoyens préfèrent ne pas quitter leur domicile pour voter, par souci de leur propre santé et de celle de leur famille. Il y avait également un risque important que les personnes dissuadées de voter appartiennent de manière disproportionnée aux groupes d’âge plus élevés ou aux personnes souffrant de maladies préexistantes. Ainsi, la légitimité de l’élection pouvait être sapée par des restrictions injustes imposées à certains segments de la société et donc par leur participation inégale.

    Ces craintes se sont en partie concrétisées. La participation des électeurs a été plus faible que lors des élections précédentes. Sur les 6 859 570 Malawites inscrits pour voter en 2020, 64,8 % ont voté. Ce chiffre est inférieur à celui de mai 2019, lorsque 74,4 % des électeurs inscrits avaient participé. Mais le faible taux de participation pourrait également être attribué à l’insuffisance des campagnes d’éducation civique et électorale. Contrairement aux élections précédentes, la plupart des OSC n’ont pas été en mesure de mener à bien ces campagnes en raison d’un manque de ressources. L’incertitude quant à la date des élections a rendu difficile la mobilisation des ressources par les OSC. La précédente Commission électorale du Malawi (MEC) n’a pas donné suffisamment confiance à la population pour que les élections aient lieu dans le délai imparti de 150 jours. La date officielle de l’élection a été fixée à peine deux semaines à l’avance, et il n’a pas été facile de mobiliser des ressources pour mener une éducation civique et électorale dans un délai aussi court.

    Cependant, il est également possible que certains Malawites aient évité de se rendre aux urnes à cause de la pandémie de COVID-19. Le jour de l’élection, on comptait déjà 803 cas documentés et 11 décès dus au COVID-19 au Malawi. Il est donc possible que certaines personnes - en particulier les personnes âgées ou celles ayant des problèmes de santé préexistants - se soient abstenues de se rendre aux urnes.

    Quels ont été les défis de l’organisation d’élections pendant une pandémie ?

    L’expérience du Malawi a montré que l’organisation d’élections pendant une pandémie peut être très difficile. Les mesures de précaution émises par le gouvernement n’autorisent pas les rassemblements de plus de 100 personnes. Cependant, la plupart des partis politiques ont ignoré cette restriction et ont organisé des événements de campagne qui dépassaient ce nombre.

    L’un des principaux défis auxquels la MEC a été confrontée lors de ces nouvelles élections était la nécessité de donner la priorité à la santé et à la sécurité des électeurs tout en garantissant l’intégrité des élections. La MEC dispose généralement d’un budget pour l’éducation des électeurs qui est utilisé avant chaque élection. Cependant, comme cette nouvelle élection n’a pas été budgétisée à l’avance, la MEC a dû faire face à des difficultés financières, qui ont été aggravées par la pandémie de COVID-19, car elle a nécessité l’achat d’équipements de protection individuelle, ajoutant des contraintes budgétaires supplémentaires.

    La MEC a également rencontré des difficultés importantes en ce qui concerne la production et la distribution du matériel de vote. Le Malawi importe beaucoup de matériel électoral d’autres pays. Alors que le Malawi se préparait aux nouvelles élections, de nombreux pays étaient en confinement total ou partiel en raison de la pandémie. Cela a eu des répercussions sur les préparatifs des élections, car certains fournisseurs ont eu des difficultés à transporter des matériaux au-delà des frontières internationales. En conséquence, l’impression des bulletins de vote, qui a eu lieu à Dubaï, a connu des retards importants.

    Un autre défi a été que les partis politiques n’ont pas pu surveiller le processus d’impression des bulletins de vote, comme cela a toujours été le cas, en raison des restrictions de voyage liées à la COVID-19. Une autre conséquence importante de la pandémie a été l’absence d’observateurs électoraux internationaux. Compte tenu des restrictions de voyage imposées dans le monde entier, la capacité des observateurs internationaux à contrôler les élections a été considérablement réduite. Et comme mentionné ci-dessus, la pandémie a également affecté la participation électorale.

    Maintenant que l’élection a abouti à la nomination d’un nouveau président, qu’attend la société civile du nouveau gouvernement ?

    La société civile attend beaucoup du nouveau gouvernement. Principalement, elle attend que le programme du nouveau gouvernement donne la priorité aux droits humains et renforce les libertés fondamentales de tous les Malawites, conformément aux normes internationales en la matière. On attend également du gouvernement qu’il agisse pour protéger l’espace de la société civile. La nouvelle élection présidentielle s’est déroulée dans un contexte d’attaques concertées du gouvernement contre la société civile et le pouvoir judiciaire. Nous attendons du nouveau gouvernement qu’il tienne sa promesse électorale de protéger l’espace civique et de permettre aux OSC de fonctionner librement.

    Dans son manifeste électoral de 2019, le MCP, qui dirige l’Alliance Tonse (un mot qui signifie « nous tous »), une coalition de neuf partis politiques formée quelques semaines avant la nouvelle élection pour déloger Mutharika, a promis de soutenir le fonctionnement des OSC locales et internationales de défense des droits humains grâce à un cadre politique, institutionnel et législatif permissif et habilitant, et de faciliter le développement progressif d’une société civile pleinement capable de demander des comptes au gouvernement et de faire respecter les droits des citoyens. Nous espérons que le nouveau gouvernement donnera suite à cette promesse et retirera le projet de loi oppressif sur les ONG de 2018, qui contient un certain nombre de dispositions susceptibles de constituer une menace pour la capacité des OSC à fonctionner. Le projet de loi augmenterait le montant de la pénalité imposée à une OSC en infraction avec la loi, qui passerait de 70 dollars US actuellement à 20 000 dollars US. Il prévoit également une peine de sept ans de prison pour les dirigeants d’OSC reconnus coupables de violation de la loi. Ainsi, par exemple, si vous tardez à envoyer un rapport à l’Autorité des ONG, vous risquez une amende de 20 000 dollars US. En outre, les directeurs de l’organisation pourraient être envoyés en prison pour sept ans. Il s'agit d'une disposition ridicule. C’est le genre de disposition que l’on ne trouve que dans les États autoritaires. Nous espérons également que le nouveau gouvernement supprimera le nouveau régime de cotisation, qui est répressif et impose une lourde charge aux OSC, et rétablira l’ancien système de cotisation. Les nouveaux frais que les OSC doivent payer au Conseil des ONG ont été augmentés en janvier 2018, passant de 70 dollars US à 1 400 dollars US.

    De quel soutien la société civile malawite aura-t-elle besoin de la part des partenaires internationaux pour aider à soutenir la démocratie au Malawi ?

    Maintenant que les élections sont terminées, il est urgent que la société civile se réunisse et élabore une feuille de route et des plans d’action comprenant un mécanisme solide de contrôle des actions du gouvernement. Pour ce faire, et en particulier pour développer leurs capacités à demander au nouveau gouvernement de rendre compte de ses engagements, les OSC ont besoin du soutien des OSC internationales. Les OSC ont également besoin d’un soutien financier pour renforcer leur rôle en tant qu’acteurs de la gouvernance et de la responsabilité locales. La viabilité financière est essentielle pour que les OSC locales deviennent des organisations résilientes et efficaces. Les OSC et les donateurs internationaux ont un rôle clé à jouer pour contribuer à la durabilité des OSC locales. Enfin, les OSC ont besoin du soutien moral des OSC internationales pour être plus efficaces. Pendant la campagne pour l’intégrité des élections, les OSC locales ont reçu un soutien massif de la société civile internationale par le biais de déclarations dans les médias et de lettres aux autorités. Nous espérons que ce soutien se poursuivra tandis que nous nous lançons dans la tâche ardue de surveiller les actions du nouveau gouvernement, notamment en ce qui concerne la lutte contre la corruption et la fin de la culture d’impunité qui prévaut depuis longtemps en ce qui concerne les violations des droits humains.

    L’espace civique au Malawi est classé « obstrué » par leCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contactez le Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation via sonsite web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@CHRRMalawi sur Twitter. 


  • Malawi makes good reforms on civic space but new NGO Policy sidelines human rights CSOs

    CIVICUS interviews, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitations’ Fletcher Simwaka about the state of civic space in Malawi and the new NGO policy.  

    1.    What is the state of human rights in Malawi at the moment? 
    There is a great sense of ambivalence on the human rights situation in the country. In some instances, one notices commendable steps government is taking in facilitating citizens’ progressive enjoyment of the various civil and political rights in the country. Remarkably, for instance, the President Professor Peter Mutharika signed the long-awaited Access to Information (ATI) Bill into law. This is a milestone as the law will enable citizens to access key and vital information held by the government. The ATI is an effective tool to entrench a culture of transparency and openness in government operations. In addition to the ATI, a major improvement on civic space is that the government is now relaxing its former restrictive stance on freedom of assembly. Concerned citizens and human rights activists are now able to conduct peaceful protests government without any undue legal hindrances. 

    On the other hand, however, the government has demonstrated vestiges of intolerance towards key human rights and freedoms, especially against critical human rights defenders and  civil society. The current administration is resorting to a divide-and-rule tactic so as to weaken and isolate civil society in the country. The government does so by appointing some of the vocal human rights defenders into government positions. Moreover, government has taken a leading role in influencing elections of civil society leaders in civil society networks and platforms by supporting their stooges. Most unfortunately, government is resorting to the selective application of justice aimed at shielding ruling party loyalists. Only cases involving government critics are dealt with expeditiously. Civil society in Malawi has also expressed concerns over the very restrictive provisions in the NGO Act which are largely reflected in the draft NGO Policy.

    2.    What are the main civil society concerns over the NGO Policy? 
    The most fundamental civil society concern over the NGO Policy is that the draft policy formulation did not undergo meaningful consultations with the wider civil society community. The policy formulators only embarked on selective consultations with pro-government CSOs.  Secondly, the draft Policy is almost silent on governance and human rights CSOs in its definition of civil society. It assumes all CSOs are community charitable organisations which are simply there to complement the service delivery work of the government. This is a deliberate and dangerous omission as it might systematically emasculate the equally important role of governance and human rights CSOs and activists in the country. 

    The Policy provides the relevant development planning structures with increased and unwarranted powers to approve projects developed by NGOs. The policy notes that “a project shall not be implemented unless it is approved by these structures.”  While it is important that projects planned by NGOs are in line with development objectives, such broad powers prescribed by the policy and given to the planning structures, will infringe on the independence and privacy of NGOs. 

    In addition, the draft policy doesn’t mention the protection of NGOs and human rights defenders. These is supposed to be reflected in any NGO policy as it is one of the crucial areas that shape their day to day work. In fact, the policy should have also acknowledged the relevant role of NGOs as a watchdog in the exercise of political and legal authority by those in public office. In view of the above, the policy priority areas need to be expanded.

    While the policy notes that this is aimed at ensuring that NGO are transparent and accountable, it will increase the administrative burden on NGOs and allow for bureaucratic discretion to reject requests for renewal of the registration of NGOs and to target NGOs that question the government.  For example, this was the case in 2014 when the NGO Board threatened to close NGOs that were not registered with the Board, despite the fact that the NGO Act (2000) does not provide the Board with powers to close on NGO.
    Again, the question of mandatory registration of NGOs with the Council for Non-Governmental Organisations in Malawi (CONGOMA) and NGO board as indicated in the NGO Act of 2001 as a requirement to qualify or be recognised in the categorisation of the draft’s policy three categories of NGOs may be challenged at law considering the fact that it may be perceived as an infringement on freedom of association, and also considering that other NGOs register under Trustees Incorporation Act of 1966 and Companies Act. 

    3.    Have there been any concerns over the years over the NGO Act? 
    CSOs in Malawi have always had misgivings concerning the NGO Act. Both in its originality and practice, the NGO Act is seen as tool to police and silence critical voices in civil society. For instance, section 23 of the NGO Act gives power to the NGO Board, the body appointed by the President, to deregister any NGO that does not operate within NGO guidelines. Some of the NGOs targeted for de-registration are those involved in and comment on political issues. Several voices within civil society have noted that this is aimed at targeting civil NGOs working on human rights and governance who are critical of the government. The provision has always been a source of the fractious relationship between civil society organisations focusing on human rights and the government.

    4.    How can international civil society support civil society in Malawi to improve civic space?
    Support from international civil society is needed to build the capacity of local civil society to empower them to demand and promote and protect civic space in the country.  There are also opportunities for international civil society groups to partner with local civil society to effect change. 

    5.  What are three things that need to change to further improve the environment in which NGOs operate in Malawi? 
    i.    The NGO Act needs to be reviewed and amended to reflect the spirit of constitutionalism.
    ii.    There is need for a robust, responsive and inclusive NGO Policy that will address the challenges faced by CSOs.
    iii.    Government must come up with a law that protects human rights defenders.

    Civic space in Malawi is rated as Narrowed by the CIVICUS Monitor


  • Malawi: Leading civil society organisations call for immediate release of human rights defenders

    CIVICUSthe global alliance of civil society organisations, together with the Malawian Human Rights Defenders Network (HRDN) and the Centre for Human rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), call for the immediate release of human rights defenders in Malawi ahead of their bail hearing today.

    Gift Trapence, a human rights defender and Deputy Chair of the Human Rights Defenders Network (HRDN), and MacDonald Sembereka were arrested on 8 March in Lilongwe and detained at Area 3 Police Station before they were taken to Blantyre.

    Another human rights defender, Timothy Mtambo, head of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHHR) and Chair of HRDN, handed himself into police on 10 March.

    They have not been charged and the Malawi Police Service accuse all three of violating Section 124 of the Penal Code by planning to hold protests outside State House on 25 March.

    The arrests were made after the HRDC announced that it was planning to hold peaceful protests and “shut down” State House on 25 March 2020 to force President Peter Mutharika to sign electoral reform bills which were passed by Parliament in February 2020. In response to calls for protests on 25 March, President Mutharika threatened human rights defenders during a rally of his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) party and called on the security forces to use all means necessary against the protesters.

    Since Presidential elections were held in May 2019, the Malawian authorities have used violence, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, threats and harassment to curb civil society organisations -particularly those calling for reforms of the electoral commission and those who are critical of the actions of President Mutharika and his DPP party. In July 2019 Gift Trapence and MacDonald Sembereka were arrested and detained on accusations of operating an illegal NGO, despite the fact that their NGO is registered under Malawi’s Companies Act.

    The arrests of these three human rights defenders is part of ongoing efforts by the Malawian authorities to silence human rights defenders and erode civil freedoms:

    “The recent arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders follow vile threats made by senior members of the DPP party. Since the May 2019 elections civil society groups and human rights defenders have been calling for a more transparent and accountable government. The authorities have often responded by using violence to target peaceful assemblies and arresting human rights defenders,” said CHRR’s Michael Simon Kaiyatsa.

    Over the last ten months civil society groups and members of the political opposition have been holding peaceful protests calling for democratic reforms. The authorities have responded with violence and death threats against human rights defenders. In August 2019, the home and car of human rights defender Timothy Mtambo were set alight and he was threatened with death by a member of the DPP. Another human rights defender and coordinator of the HRDN, Moir WalitaMkandawire, was physically assaulted and hospitalized for injuries sustained in his eyes.

    CIVICUS, CHRR and HRDN call for the immediate release ofGift Trapence, MacDonald Sembereka and Timothy Mtambo. We also ask the authorities to stop intimidating representatives of civil society and respect the rights of all Malawians to protest peacefully and raise concerns over issues affecting them.

    Malawi is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks the state of civic space around the world.



    Nina Teggarty, CIVICUS Communications Officer, Campaigns & Advocacy


    Phone: +27 (0)785013500

    CIVICUS media team:


    Michael Kaiyatsa, CHRR Programmes Manager


    Phone: +265(0)998895699


  • MALAWI: ‘Civil society expects new gov. to place rights at the top of its agenda’

    CIVICUS speaks with Michael Kaiyatsa, acting Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR),about the recent presidential election in Malawi, which were held in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and led to a change of government. The CHRR is civil society organisation (CSO) aimed at supporting and promoting democracy and human rights in Malawi. Its mission is to contribute towards the protection, promotion and consolidation of good governance by empowering rural and urban communities to exercise their rights. Founded in 1995 by former student exiles who returned home to the promise of a new democracy, it operates through two core programmes: Community Mobilisation and Empowerment and Human Rights Monitoring and Training.


    Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and a political crisis, the presidential election was held in Malawi in June 2020. What was the role of civil society and the judiciary in ensuring that the election took place?

    I think it is fair to say that judges and civil society-led protests paved the way for the fresh presidential election to be held. The election that was held on 23 June 2020 was a rerun ordered by Malawi’s Constitutional Court, which ruled on 3 February 2020 to overturn the 21 May 2019 presidential election, citing massive irregularities.

    In the May 2019 presidential contest, the incumbent, Peter Mutharika, was declared winner, in the first-past-the-post system, with 38.57 per cent of the vote. However, the opposition claimed the poll had been fraudulent. They cited, among other things, the alleged use of Tippex correction fluid to change vote tallies. Dr Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party and Dr Saulos Chilima of the United Transformation Movement petitioned the Constitutional Court, seeking to overturn the presidential election results. The two cited widespread irregularities, including the use of Tippex and missing signatures on some result sheets.

    The Constitutional Court’s historic ruling, later validated by the country’s Supreme Court, represents a noteworthy illustration of the independence of the judiciary in Malawi’s maturing democracy. However, key to the ruling was not only the independence of Malawi’s judiciary but also months of civil society-led mass demonstrations. The protests were so sustained and vigorous that they could not be ignored by key democratic institutions like the judiciary. The Human Rights Defenders Coalition, an influential civil society grouping, courageously brought thousands of people to the streets on a regular basis to campaign against the botched outcome of the May 2019 election. This was particularly important because it significantly increased the pressure on the judiciary and other key democratic institutions to do the right thing.

    This is not to underrate the role played by the judiciary. The judges really stood up to defend democracy. Prior to the Constitutional Court ruling there had been several attempts to bribe the judges to ensure that the ruling went in former President Mutharika’s favour: one prominent banker was arrested in connection with the bribery case. There were also numerous threats to the independence of the judiciary prior to the rerun, including a government attempt to force out senior Supreme Court judges through early retirement just days before the rerun. The judges could have easily succumbed to such intimidation and ruled in favour of Mutharika, but they did not. Instead, they stood firm and delivered a radical judgement that has changed the way Malawi is governed.

    Civil society successfully challenged a decision by the former government to impose a lockdown. Why did civil society object to it when other countries around the world were implementing similar measures?

    Civil society wanted the lockdown to be put on hold until the government could come up with some way to protect the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Civil society groups were unhappy that the government did not outline a social safety net for vulnerable people during the lockdown, which prompted the Human Rights Defenders Coalition and other CSOs to seek a stop order from the court. It is a fact that many people in Malawi operate on a hand-to-mouth basis.

    It is also important to note that the civil society challenge came after thousands of informal traders in the cities of Blantyre and Mzuzu and in districts like Thyolo had taken to the streets to protest against the lockdown with placards that read, ‘We’d rather die of corona than die of hunger’. Many of these vendors are daily wage earners and a lockdown could have badly affected them. There was also growing suspicion among civil society and the citizenry that the government was trying to use the lockdown to justify the cancellation or postponement of the elections.

    How was the election turnout? Were there worries that Malawians would not come out to vote for fear of contagion?

    There were worries that Malawians would not come out in their numbers to vote because of health concerns caused by the pandemic. It was feared, for example, that with the need for limited exposure to large groups and social distancing, citizens might be less likely to leave their homes to vote because of concerns for their own health and that of their family members. There was also a major risk that those deterred from voting would be disproportionately from older age groups or people with underlying health conditions. The legitimacy of the contest might therefore be undermined by unfair restrictions placed on certain segments of society and thus by their uneven participation. 

    These fears were partly realised. The voter turnout was lower than in the previous election. Of the 6,859,570 Malawians registered to vote in 2020, 64.8 per cent voted. This was down from May 2019, when 74.4 per cent of registered voters participated. But the low turnout could also be attributed to inadequate voter and civic education campaigns. Unlike in previous elections, most CSOs were unable to conduct civic and voter education due to resource challenges. The uncertainty of polling dates made it difficult for CSOs to mobilise resources. The previous Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) did not give people confidence that the elections would take place within the stipulated 150 days. The official date for the polls was fixed only around two weeks before the elections, so mobilising resources to conduct civic and voter education at such short notice was not easy.

    However, it is also true that some Malawians may have avoided the polls because of the growing COVID-19 pandemic. By election day, there were 803 documented cases and 11 recorded COVID-19 deaths in Malawi so some people – possibly older people and those with pre-existing health conditions – may have stayed away.

    What were the challenges of organising elections during a pandemic?

    The experience in Malawi has shown that organising elections during a pandemic can be very challenging. The prevention measures outlined by the government do not allow gatherings of more than 100 people. However, most political parties ignored this restriction and held campaign meetings exceeding this number.

    A key challenge faced by the MEC during this fresh election was the need to put the health and safety of voters first while ensuring the integrity of elections. The MEC usually has a voter education budget that is utilised ahead of each election. However, given that this fresh election was not budgeted for earlier, the MEC faced financial challenges, which deepened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which required the procurement of personal protective equipment, adding further budgetary constraints.

    The MEC also experienced significant challenges with the production and distribution of voting materials. Malawi imports many election materials from other countries. As Malawi was gearing up for the fresh election, many countries were on full or partial lockdown in the wake of the pandemic. This impacted on election preparations, as some suppliers found it difficult to transport goods internationally. Because of all this, there were significant delays in the printing of ballot papers, which was done in Dubai.

    Another challenge was that political parties were not able to monitor the ballot printing process, as has always been the case, due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions. A further important consequence of the pandemic was the absence of international election observers. With international travel restrictions imposed worldwide, the ability of international observers to observe the election was dramatically restricted. And as already mentioned, the pandemic affected voter turnout.

    Now that the rerun election has led to the ousting of the incumbent and a new president, what does civil society expect from the new government?

    Civil society has many expectations of the new government. One of the key expectations is that the new government will place the promotion and protection of human rights at the top of its agenda and strengthen the fundamental freedoms of all Malawians in line with international human rights standards. It is also hoped that the government will move to protect the space for civil society. The fresh presidential election took place amidst concerted government attacks on civil society and the judiciary. It is our expectation that the new government will fulfil its election promise to protect civic space and allow CSOs to operate freely.

    In its 2019 election manifesto, the Malawi Congress Party, which leads the Tonse Alliance (‘Tonse’ meaning ‘all of us’), a grouping of nine political parties formed weeks before the fresh poll to unseat Mutharika, promised to support the operations of local and international human rights CSOs through a permissive and enabling policy and institutional and legislative framework and to facilitate the progressive development of a civil society that is fully capable of holding the government accountable and defending citizens’ rights. It is our hope that the new administration will walk the talk on this promise and withdraw the oppressive NGO Act (Amendment Bill) of 2018, which contains a number of provisions that could pose a threat to CSOs’ ability to operate. The proposed legislation would raise the penalty fee imposed on a CSO in breach of the law from the current US$70 to US$20,000. It would also impose a seven-year jail term on CSO leaders found in breach of the law. So, for example, if you delay submitting a report to the NGO Authority, you could be fined US$20,000 and the directors of the organisation could be sent to prison for seven years. This is a ridiculous provision. It is a provision that can only be found in authoritarian states. We also hope the new administration will scrap the new fee regime, which is repressive and quite high for CSOs, and revert to the old fees. The new fees that CSOs have to pay to the NGO Board were increased in January 2018 from US$70 to US$1,400.

    What support will civil society in Malawi need from international civil society to help sustain Malawi’s democracy?

    One thing that is urgent now that elections are out of the way is for civil society to sit down and develop an action plan and roadmap, which can include a robust mechanism to check on the government's actions. In this regard, CSOs need the support of international CSOs, particularly to develop their capacities to hold the new government to account on its commitments. CSOs also need financial support to reinforce their role in local governance and accountability. Financial sustainability is crucial for local CSOs if they are to become resilient, effective organisations. International CSOs and donors have a key role to play in helping local CSOs become more sustainable. Finally, CSOs need moral support from international CSOs to be more effective. During the campaign for electoral integrity, local CSOs received overwhelming support from international CSOs through media statements and letters to authorities. It is our hope that this support will continue as we embark on the arduous task of checking the new government’s actions, especially in addressing corruption and the longstanding culture of impunity for human rights violations.

    Civic space in Malawi is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@CHRRMalawi on Twitter.



  • MALAWI: ‘Girls need protection against COVID-19, and against endemic violations of their rights’

    CIVICUS speaks with Ephraim Chimwaza, Executive Director of the Centre for Social Concern and Development (CESOCODE), a Malawian reproductive health and women’s rights civil society organisation (CSO). CESOCODE works to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence (GBV) against adolescent girls and young women and to promote their human rights and wellbeing through advocacy, research, education, training and the provision of basic reproductive health services. 

    Ephraim Chimwaza picture

    What is the situation of young women and girls in Malawi?

    In Malawi, half the population lives below the poverty line. Girls face more obstacles than boys in accessing education and job opportunities, and many girls don’t know their legal rights. Lack of access to opportunities also drives child marriage, which is another major factor that hinders the rights of girls.

    Malawi has committed to eliminating child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals, and has also ratified several international instruments to that end, but still, 42 per cent of girls in Malawi are married before the age of 18 and almost 10 per cent are married before they turn 15. Among some ethnic groups, arranged marriages are commonly used to create alliances between families. Throughout the country, poorer families often marry off their daughters to reduce their financial burden or in an attempt to offer them a chance at better life. In other cases, they marry them off if they get pregnant, to avoid bringing dishonour to their families. Some parents in desperate situations also force their daughters to have sex in exchange for money or food.

    Violence against young women and adolescent girls is commonplace. One in four girls has experienced recent violence by a partner, but few seek help. Social acceptance of sexual and other forms of violence against women and girls is pervasive, even among young people. Not surprisingly, adolescent girls continue to bear the brunt of the HIV epidemic. The number of girls aged 10 to 19 years who are living with HIV is on the rise, as adolescent girls account for nearly three in four of new infections. 

    How do you help address these challenges?

    We have been active since 2009, focusing on promoting girls’ rights and specifically on ending child marriage. To that end, we work with communities and their leaders to encourage girls to stay in school.  We offer girls a safe space to access sexual and reproductive healthcare, and we provide counselling to girls who are affected by GBV.

    We are also members of a global initiative called Girls Not Brides, which includes more than 1,300 CSOs from over 100 countries committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfil their potential by increasing access to health, education and opportunities. Through that partnership, we bring child marriage and related violations of girls’ rights to global attention, contribute to building an understanding of the issues and call for changes in laws, policies and programmes that will make a difference in the lives of millions of girls.

    How has the COVID-19 pandemic specifically impacted on girls in Malawi, and how have you managed to continue your work?

    The COVID-19 pandemic is having a negative impact on girls in Malawi. We are already seeing it in the communities that we serve. The social distancing measures imposed by the government have led to school closures. As health facilities and mobile clinics also suspended their operations, access to sexual and reproductive health services, which was already limited, decreased further. Under lockdown, cases of GBV and sexual abuse have increased, but reporting has decreased. Most girls are unable to go out and report GBV and have to keep living with their abusers and fearing for their lives.

    Our programmes and activities have been affected by the social distancing measures imposed by the government to diminish the risk of COVID-19 infection. We have been unable to conduct physical meetings with girls and provide them with vital services like condoms and contraceptives. Girls cannot move out from their homes to attend meetings, workshops or conferences, as all public gatherings have been banned to uphold social distancing.

    However, we have continued to reach out to girls through various means.

    First, we are reaching out through social media and mobile apps. We are using online platforms such as Facebook and mobile applications such as WhatsApp to disseminate messaging about public health and domestic violence prevention. We have developed a Bluetooth mobile-to-mobile messaging service, which allows us to check in with girls and for them to let us know if they are at risk. We have also produced a short podcast focusing on domestic violence against girls. This includes a version in sign language, so that we can ensure girls who are deaf or hard of hearing aren’t excluded.

    Second, we are using community radios and television to provide tailored messaging and talk show content to reach out to girls in their homes with GBV prevention messages. These also include sign language interpretation.

    Third, we continue our community engagement work, spreading messages via word of mouth or loudspeakers. We use our vehicle to drive around the communities and disseminate information about GBV prevention and the promotion of girls’ rights, including the prevention of child marriage.

    Fourth, we are distributing printed outreach material that lays out the dangers of violating the rights of girls and explains where to report violence against girls. We do this through flyers and brochures as well as by hanging posters in places where girls frequently pass by, such as shops, water kiosks and mini markets. These materials are always written in the local language and include pictures to make content easier to understand.

    As a result, we have been able to continue our work and we have not abandoned the girls who rely on us at a time when they may need us the most.

    What do you think is the key to the good results you obtained?

    I think there are three main factors that account for the good results that we have obtained.

    First, we have kept community leaders and other key stakeholders engaged with a policy of zero tolerance for GBV against girls. We conducted online meetings and shared podcast programming with relevant stakeholders who work with girls that teaches positive and healthy relationship skills to prevent violence against girls and promote reproductive health for girls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Second, we have identified low-cost tools to keep girls engaged and have continued to empower them during the pandemic. We have done this both by using new technologies where available and accessible, and by reaching out in other ways to girls in communities with no access to social media.

    Third, we have pushed for the integration of GBV prevention messaging into COVID-19 prevention materials for healthcare providers to reach out to girls and provide them with full support and protection – not just against the coronavirus but also against endemic violations of their rights.

    Civic space in Malawi is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Centre for Social Concern and Development through its Facebook page.


  • MALAWI: ‘Las niñas necesitan protección no solo contra el COVID-19, sino también contra la violación endémica de sus derechos’

    CIVICUS conversa con Ephraim Chimwaza, Director Ejecutivo del Centro para el Avance Social y el Desarrollo (Centre for Social Concern and Development, CESOCODE), una organización de la sociedad civil (OSC) que trabaja en temas de salud reproductiva y promueve los derechos de las mujeres de Malawi. CESOCODE trabaja para eliminar todas las formas de violencia de género (VG) que padecen niñas, adolescentes y mujeres jóvenes y promueve sus derechos humanos y su bienestar a través de la incidencia, la investigación, la educación, la capacitación y la prestación de servicios básicos de salud reproductiva.

    Ephraim Chimwaza picture

    ¿Cuál es la situación de las niñas y las mujeres jóvenes en Malawi?

    En Malawi, la mitad de la población vive por debajo de la línea de pobreza. Las niñas enfrentan más obstáculos que los niños para acceder a la educación y a oportunidades laborales, y muchas niñas no conocen sus derechos legales. La falta de acceso a oportunidades también impulsa el matrimonio infantil, que es otro factor que obstaculiza fuertemente el disfrute de los derechos de las niñas.

    Malawi se ha comprometido a eliminar el matrimonio infantil, temprano y forzado para 2030, de acuerdo con el objetivo 5.3 de los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible, y también ha ratificado varios instrumentos internacionales con ese fin. Aun así, el 42% de las niñas en Malawi se ven obligadas a casarse antes de los 18 años, y casi el 10% lo hace antes de cumplir los 15. En algunos grupos étnicos, los matrimonios arreglados son comúnmente utilizados para establecer alianzas entre familias. En todo el país, las familias más pobres a menudo dan a sus hijas en matrimonio para reducir la carga económica de mantenerlas o con la intención de ofrecerles la oportunidad de una vida mejor. En otros casos, las obligan a casarse si quedan embarazadas, para que no deshonren a sus familias. Algunos padres en situaciones desesperadas también obligan a sus hijas a tener relaciones sexuales a cambio de dinero o comida.

    La violencia contra las adolescentes y las mujeres jóvenes es moneda corriente. Una de cada cuatro jóvenes ha experimentado recientemente episodios de violencia por parte de una pareja, pero son pocas las que buscan ayuda. La violencia sexual y otras formas de violencia contra las mujeres y las niñas son socialmente aceptadas en forma generalizada, incluso entre los jóvenes. No resulta sorprendente que las adolescentes sigan siendo las más afectadas por la epidemia del VIH. El número de niñas de entre 10 y 19 años que viven con el VIH está aumentando, dado que las adolescentes representan casi tres de cada cuatro nuevas infecciones.

    ¿De qué modo aborda CESOCODE estos desafíos?

    Desde 2009 trabajamos con el foco puesto en la promoción de los derechos de las niñas, y específicamente con el objetivo de acabar con el matrimonio infantil. Con ese fin, trabajamos con las comunidades y sus líderes para alentar a las niñas a que permanezcan en la escuela. Ofrecemos a las adolescentes un espacio seguro donde pueden acceder a servicios de salud sexual y reproductiva, y damos asesoramiento a las que padecen violencia de género.

    También integramos una iniciativa global llamada “Niñas, no novias” (Girls Not Brides), que incluye a más de 1300 OSC de más de 100 países que trabajan para terminar con el matrimonio infantil y contribuir a que las niñas alcancen todo su potencial aumentando su acceso a la salud, a la educación y a mayores oportunidades. A través de esta alianza llamamos la atención del mundo sobre el matrimonio infantil y las violaciones concomitantes de los derechos de las niñas, contribuimos a generar una comprensión del problema y reclamamos cambios en las leyes, así como la implementación de políticas y programas que harán una gran diferencia en las vidas de millones de niñas.

    ¿Qué impactos específicos ha tenido la pandemia del COVID-19 sobre las niñas en Malawi, y cómo han logrado ustedes continuar trabajando en este contexto?

    La pandemia del COVID-19 está teniendo un impacto negativo sobre las niñas en Malawi. Ya lo estamos viendo en las comunidades donde trabajamos. Las medidas de distanciamiento social impuestas por el gobierno han llevado al cierre de escuelas. Como los centros de salud y las clínicas móviles también suspendieron la atención, el acceso a los servicios de salud sexual y reproductiva, que ya era limitado, disminuyó aún más. Durante el encierro obligado por la cuarentena, los casos de violencia de género y abuso sexual han aumentado, pero las denuncias han disminuido. La mayoría de las niñas no pueden salir y denunciar la violencia de género que padecen y tienen que seguir viviendo con sus abusadores y temiendo por sus vidas.

    Nuestros programas y actividades se han visto afectados por las medidas de distanciamiento social impuestas por el gobierno para disminuir el riesgo de infección por COVID-19. No hemos podido reunirnos físicamente con las niñas y brindarles servicios vitales, tales como condones y anticonceptivos. Las niñas no pueden salir de sus hogares para asistir a reuniones, talleres o conferencias, ya que todas las reuniones públicas han sido prohibidas para mantener el distanciamiento social.

    Sin embargo, hemos seguido llegando a las niñas a través de diversos medios.

    En primer lugar, nos comunicamos a través de las redes sociales y aplicaciones móviles. Estamos utilizando plataformas en línea como Facebook y aplicaciones móviles como WhatsApp para difundir mensajes sobre salud pública y prevención de la violencia doméstica. Hemos desarrollado un servicio de mensajería vía Bluetooth, de móvil a móvil, que nos permite mantener el contacto con las niñas y que ellas pueden usar para avisarnos si están en riesgo. También hemos producido un breve podcast centrado en la violencia doméstica contra las niñas, que incluye una versión en lenguaje de señas, de modo de no excluir a las niñas sordas o con dificultades auditivas.

    En segundo lugar, estamos usando la radio y la televisión comunitarias para difundir mensajes a medida y empaquetando contenido en programas populares para llegar a las niñas en sus hogares con mensajes de prevención de la violencia de género. Estos también incluyen interpretación en lenguaje de señas.

    En tercer lugar, seguimos trabajando en las comunidades, difundiendo mensajes de boca en boca o mediante el uso de altavoces. Usamos nuestro vehículo con altavoz para recorrer las comunidades y difundir información sobre prevención de la violencia de género y el matrimonio infantil y para promover los derechos de las niñas en general.

    Cuarto, estamos distribuyendo material impreso de divulgación para explicar las consecuencias de las violaciones de los derechos de las niñas e informar dónde denunciar casos de violencia contra las niñas. Lo hacemos a través del reparto de volantes y folletos, y también pegamos carteles en lugares por donde niñas y adolescentes pasan con frecuencia, tales como tiendas, fuentes de agua y minimercados. Estos materiales están siempre escritos en el idioma local e incluyen imágenes para que el contenido sea más fácil de entender.

    Así hemos podido continuar con nuestro trabajo y no hemos abandonado a las chicas que confían en nosotros en el momento en que más nos necesitan.

    ¿A qué crees que se deben los buenos resultados obtenidos?

    Pienso que hay tres factores principales que explican los buenos resultados que hemos obtenido.

    Primero, hemos mantenido el vínculo con los líderes comunitarios y otros actores clave y hemos apuntalado su compromiso con una política de tolerancia cero hacia la violencia de género contra las niñas. Llevamos a cabo reuniones virtuales y compartimos programas en formato podcast con diversos actores relevantes que trabajan con niñas. Estos materiales sirven para incentivar relaciones positivas y saludables de modo de prevenir la violencia contra las niñas al tiempo que promueven la salud reproductiva de las jóvenes durante la pandemia del COVID-19.

    En segundo lugar, hemos identificado herramientas de bajo costo que nos han permitido mantener el contacto con las niñas y hemos continuado empoderándolas durante la pandemia. Lo hemos hecho mediante el uso de nuevas tecnologías en los casos en que están disponibles y son accesibles, y hemos buscado conectarnos de otras maneras con las niñas que viven en comunidades que carecen de acceso a las redes sociales.

    En tercer lugar, hemos impulsado la integración de mensajes de prevención de la VG en los materiales de prevención del COVID-19, de modo que los servicios de atención médica se comuniquen con las niñas y les brinden apoyo y protección integrales, no solo contra el COVID-19 sino también contra la violación endémica de sus derechos.

    El espacio cívico en Malawi es calificado como “obstruido” por el CIVICUS Monitor.
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  • Malawi's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

    Statement at 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Malawi


    We welcome Malawi’s engagement in the UPR process.

    In our report submitted to the review, CIVICUS, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) set out the challenges facing Malawi in realization of fundamental freedoms.

    Authorities have routinely restricted freedoms of assembly, association and expression by violently dispersing peaceful protests, arresting human rights defenders and targeting independent media outlets.  In the aftermath of the May 2019 elections, human rights defenders were subjected to smear campaigns, judicial persecution and detention by the authorities. 
    Restrictive provisions in the Penal Code and the Cyber Security Law adopted in 2016 were used to limit freedom of expression and target journalists, bloggers and media houses.

    Malawi has so much more to do to protect journalists and human rights defenders. Indeed, During its last cycle Malawi agreed to fully investigate all cases of harassment and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice and to ensure the protection of human rights defenders. These pledges have not been implemented. For example, in the run-up to the fresh election held in June 2020, there was an increase in acts of violence and intimidation of journalists by officials of the then ruling party, the Police and other government institutions. In August 2020, journalists from the independent Mibawa Television Station, Times Media Group and others, were subjected to threats, harassment and smear campaigns for comments made about the Covid-19 pandemic.
    For Malawi to enact meaningful and sustainable human rights progress, it must not only put rule of law and fundamental freedoms at the center of government actions and policies. It must also ensure that there is space for human rights defenders, journalists and all members of civil society to criticize, to speak out, to peacefully assemble. Creating an enabling environment is key to the implementation of all the recommendations Malawi received this cycle. States who made such recommendations now have a responsibility to those on the ground to ensure Malawi’s promises are kept.

    Civic space in Malawi is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor


  • Upcoming UN review critical moment for Malawi to address civic freedom gaps

    CIVICUS, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) call on UN member states to urge the Government of Malawi to double its efforts to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN Human Rights Council on 3 November 2020 as part of the 36th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

    At the county’s second UPR five years ago, UN member states made 53 recommendations that directly related to civic space. Malawi subsequently committed to taking concrete measures to protect freedom of assembly by ensuring that relevant constitutional provisions relating to freedom of assembly are allowed to thrive without undue interference.  It also agreed to fully investigate all cases of harassment and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice and to ensure the protection of human rights defenders. 

    In a joint submission to this UPR cycle, our organisations assessed the implementation of these recommendations and compliance with international human rights law and standards over the last five years. Since Malawi’s second UPR, the authorities routinely restricted freedoms of assembly, association and expression by violently dispersing peaceful protests, arresting human rights defenders and targeting independent media outlets.  These restrictions on fundamental freedoms increased substantively after the controversial elections of May 2019.  In the aftermath of the elections, human rights defenders were subjected to smear campaigns, judicial persecution and detention by the authorities.  

    “Human rights defenders are, particularly under threat. Member states should take this opportunity to make recommendations to support them, including by calling on the Government of Malawi to enact a long-overdue specific law for the protection of Human Rights Defenders,” said Gift Trapence, Executive Director, Centre for the Development of People.

    The June 2020 elections and the coming to power of a new government presents an opportunity for Malawi to reset its human rights record and place the respect for the rule of law and fundamental freedoms at the centre of government actions and policies. In our joint UPR submission, we expressed concerns over the use of the NGO Act (2000), the Penal Code and the use of other legislation which limit the operations of CSOs.  The increase in registration fees for CSOs provided for in the Non-Governmental Organizations (Fees) Regulation and the requirement for CSOs to submit a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with relevant government ministries and departments increase the administrative burdens on CSOs and restrict their abilities to respond to the needs of communities in an agile manner. 

    Restrictive provisions in the Penal Code and the Cyber Security Law adopted in 2016 were used to limit freedom of expression and target journalists, bloggers and media houses.  The Penal Code provided for prison sentences to those found guilty of “insulting” the Head of State while the Cyber Crimes law allows for the imprisonment of those who simply post “offensive” content. In addition, there were several instances where journalists were subjected to judicial persecution while others were attacked by state and non-state actors. 

    The Malawian authorities must do more to protect journalists from state and non-state actors and create an enabling environment for journalists and independent media outlets to report on issues affecting citizens without fear of intimidation or harassment.  In August 2020 for example, two journalists from the independent Mibawa Television Station were subjected to threats, harassment and smear campaigns following utterances they made on-air about the Covid-19 pandemic.  Other journalists were threatened under similar circumstances for comments made about the pandemic. 

    The Operationalization of the Access to Information (ATI) law is a move in the right direction and will ensure that journalists and citizens will have access to information from state actors.  The operationalization of the ATI should be followed by an annulment of restrictive provisions in the Penal Code and the Cyber Crimes Law to enhance freedom of expression and media freedoms. 

    “We are concerned that all of the recommendations Malawi accepted during the previous UPR review relating to journalists and human rights defenders have not been implemented. This highlights the need to reiterate to Malawi that its continued disregard of the rights of journalists and human rights defenders remains unacceptable.  It also highlights the need keep a close eye on the human rights situation in Malawi after the outcome of the review has been adopted to ensure compliance with the recommendations,” said Michael Kaiyatsa, Acting Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation.  

    The examination of Malawi will take place during the 36th Session of the UPR. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, which examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council. 

    Civic space in Malawi is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor