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Malawi - African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights - Death Penalty - September 2014

The Advocates for Human Rights submitted a report on the death penalty in Malawi for the 56th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, when the Commission will examine Malawi's implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. The report addresses Malawi's compliance with its human rights obligations as they pertain to the death penalty, pretrial detention, adequate legal resources, and prison conditions. The government of Malawi has yet to formally abolish the death penalty and has shown little willingness to do so.

Malawi's de facto moratorium on the death penalty and its recognition of its harsh prison conditions are a first step toward protecting human rights. Also, in 2011 Malawi amended Section 210 of its Penal Code to eliminate the mandatory death penalty for murder and treason. To build on this progress, the report suggests that the Commission should recommend that the government of Malawi:

  • Abolish the death penalty;
  • Replace the death penalty with a sentence that is fair, proportionate, and respects international human rights standards;
  • In the meantime, restrict the application of the death penalty to only the most serious crimes, as defined by the United Nations; and
  • Provide death row detainees--and the general prison population, more broadly--with adequate legal assistance before, during, and after trial.

The report addresses other problems in Malawi's justice system, including:

  • Resources and Representation
    Although the Legal Aid Act of 2011 established enhanced access to public defenders, Malawi's legal infrastructure is still strained with inadequate resources and a shortage of legal aid lawyers. Court proceedings are delayed because there are insufficient numbers of prosecutors and judges. Overall, the lack of adequate staffing and resources in Malawi's justice system deprives defendants of adequate legal representation and the right to be tried within a reasonable time.
  • Prison conditions
    Detainees and prisoners are held in conditions that violate basic human rights. The report recommends that Malawi dedicate resources to provide food for prisoners, to reduce overcrowding in prisons, and to establish an efficacious justice system to reduce the number of pretrial detainees.