Local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have called for concerted efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination, which sometimes result in violent attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) individuals.
The organizations – Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) – have made the call in a statement issued on Wednesday as Malawi joined the rest of the global village in commemorating this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
The day is commemorated every year on May 17 with the aim of raising awareness about issues facing LGBTIQ persons around the world.
This year, the event is being commemorated under the theme: Together Always: United in Diversity. This theme is a timely reminder that all human beings, regardless of who they are, whom they love, and how they see and define themselves, are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
In the statement, CHRR Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa and his CEDEP counterpart, Gift Trapence, welcomed positive developments taken by the Malawi Government, such as the inclusion of sexual and gender minorities as key populations in the Malawi National Strategic Plan for HIV and AIDS (2020 –2025).
Kaiyatsa and Trapence, however, expressed deep concern over continued violence, stigma and discrimination directed towards LGBTIQ individuals in the country, which continue to undermine effective responses to HIV among this group and to taint Malawi’s human rights record.
“Of late, we have noted with deep sadness a rise in anti-LGBTIQ rhetoric, following the decision by the Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of outlawing homosexuality. We note with deep sadness that most of this rhetoric is being fuelled by disinformation and false narratives being promoted by some religious groups in the country. We urge the Chakwera administration to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and end the criminalization and victimisation of people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,” they said.
They cited Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.
Section 20 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi also forbids discrimination in any form, stating clearly that “Discrimination of persons in any form is prohibited and all persons are, under any law, guaranteed equal and effective protection against discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, disability, property, birth or other status or condition.”
The two human rights activists said it is unacceptable that almost three decades after Malawi adopted a democratic constitution that guarantees rights for everyone, human rights continue to be violated on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.
“It is disappointing to note that the Malawi Government rejected all recommendations on Sexual orientation and gender identity during the United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Malawi in November 2020. This was a missed opportunity to cement gains on the promotion and protection of human rights for all citizens equally. We call upon the Chakwera administration to uphold the inherent dignity of all persons, without discrimination, by adopting measures to eradicate the discrimination, exclusion, intolerance, hatred, violence, victimisation and criminalisation of LGBTIQ persons. We particularly call upon the Government to review the National Human Rights Action Plan of 2018. Though this document was developed and huge amounts of resources spent on it, it remains unimplemented up to today. As a country we cannot operate without this blueprint strategic document, hence our call for the review and the implementation of this document,” they said.
Kaiyatsa and Trapence concluded their statement by calling upon state and non-state actors, including faith leaders, to desist from hate speech against LGBTIQ individuals.