Last week, the Presidential Press Secretary of Malawi explained on a radio program that President Peter Mutharika would like to see “gay rights protected.”
Press Secretary Gerald Viola said that President Mutharika plans to let Malawians decide on LGBT issues, even if that means putting it to a popular vote via a referendum. He has agreed to support the people, regardless of their decision. While this revelation does not imply that the president endorses LGBT equality, it does represent an opportunity for LGBT advocates and allies working in Malawi to repeal anti-LGBT laws.
In a follow-up interview with Buzzfeed, Press Secretary Viola expressed that when the President “sees other people being victimized,” he believes that it is best to “leave politics, laws aside—we apply human dignity to be respected.”
In 2012, then-President Joyce Banda called on the parliament to repeal the existing sodomy law, under which same-sex relations are punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Following some resistance to the call for repeal, President Banda issued a moratorium on the enforcement of the sodomy law. The debate just recently became public again when two men were arrested last month for their alleged sexual encounter. Both men were released, and after public criticism, the government of Malawi announced that it would no longer enforce the sodomy law.
Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu issued a statement reaffirming the moratorium.
“Malawi as a member of the international community is also committed to adhere to universally accepted human rights standards,” thestatement read. “Further in line with this commitment, Government has imposed a moratorium on arrests and prosecution of consensual homosexual acts.”
Gift Trapence, director of the Centre for the Development of the People (CEDEP) and a leading advocate for LGBT rights in Malawi, commended the statement issued.
“It’s heartening to see the Malawian government reinforce its commitment to human rights,” Trapence said.
HRC Global will continue to monitor the situation for LGBT individuals in Malawi, but we are hopeful that these latest developments will provide much-needed political space and opportunity for change. For more information on the situation for LGBT individuals in Africa and Malawi specifically, check out HRC's Report: The State of Human Rights for LGBT People in Africa.