BLANTREE, Malawi — Malawi’s government has paid thousands of dollars in compensation to women who were allegedly sexually assaulted by police officers during post-election protests. However, lawyers for the victims and human rights campaigners say money alone is not enough. They want the suspects to be arrested and produced in the court. The police have promised a fresh investigation.
The Malawi Human Rights Commission accused police officers of raping victims in the capital, Lilongwe, in apparent retaliation for the fatal stone-pelting of a police officer by residents during the post-election violence on October 8, 2019.
In his ruling on August 13, 2020, High Court Judge Kenyatta Nyirenda ordered the Malawi Police Service to pay compensation to 18 women and arrest 17 police officers implicated for the crimes. Nyirenda said the victims should be compensated for the trauma they suffered at the hands of the police.
Now that the compensation has been paid, however, lawyers and human rights campaigners for the victims say money alone is not enough.
Atupel Masanjala is the spokesperson of the Mahila Vakil Sangh, which represented rape victims.
She says the compensation marks the end of the civil case but the criminal aspect needs to be looked at.
“Because even though those women are compensated, those who have done wrong are not held accountable,” Masanzala said. “Police officers are not the people who paid that money. That was the government paying on behalf of the police. But those police officers have not been identified, they have not been held accountable, they have not been arrested. So, as it is now, they are criminals who are just roaming free and that is unacceptable.”
Habiba Osman is the Executive Secretary of the Malawi Human Rights Commission. She says a criminal proceeding is needed.
“This means that now whenever people commit such crimes which would appear to violate the rights of other people, there will be personal liability or responsibility,” Osman said. “So, it also has to tell us that even if they are agents of the state [tasked] To enforce the law, the same organization can cut them if they commit a crime.”
The government paid $160,000 to 18 victims, with compensation ranging from $5,000 to $12,000 per victim.
In this report, on the condition of anonymity, a victim of the Masandwe area said that the compensation is very less.
She says “I left my village” [scene of the incident] Somewhere to settle because people were laughing at me for what happened. So, though the compensation would be enough to buy land and build a house. But this is not the case.”
She says she awaits the arrest of the perpetrators, although she could not identify her assailant as she says he covered her face when he raped her.
James Kadadzera is the spokesman for the Malawi Police Service.
He told that the VOA police are ready to launch a fresh investigation after their previous investigation failed to identify the suspects.
“In fact, there were several police officers who were on duty on that particular day,” Kadadzera said. “Maybe more than 100, so it was difficult to identify the suspects.”
Kadadzera hopes that this time, they will identify the suspects as they say the investigation team will include members of the Malawi Human Rights Commission, the Women’s Lawyers Association and other human rights organizations.