International Criminology World

World : Africa : Malawi

Hominid remains and stone implements have been identified in Malawi dating back more than 1 million years, and early humans inhabited the vicinity of Lake Malawi 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Human remains at a site dated about 8000 BC show physical characteristics similar to peoples living today in the Horn of Africa. At another site, dated 1500 BC, the remains possess features resembling Negro and Bushman people.

Although the Portuguese reached the area in the 16th century, the first significant Western contact was the arrival of David Livingstone along the shore of Lake Malawi in 1859. Subsequently, Scottish Presbyterian churches established missions in Malawi. One of their objectives was to end the slave trade to the Persian Gulf that continued to the end of the 19th century. In 1878, a number of traders, mostly from Glasgow, formed the African Lakes Company to supply goods and services to the missionaries. Other missionaries, traders, hunters, and planters soon followed.

In 1883, a consul of the British Government was accredited to the "Kings and Chiefs of Central Africa," and in 1891, the British established the Nyasaland Protectorate (Nyasa is the Chichewa word for "lake"). Although the British remained in control during the first half of the 1900s, this period was marked by a number of unsuccessful Malawian attempts to obtain independence. A growing European and U.S.-educated African elite became increasingly vocal and politically active--first through associations, and after 1944, through the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC).

During the 1950s, pressure for independence increased when Nyasaland was joined with Northern and Southern Rhodesia in 1953 to form the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In July 1958, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda returned to the country after a long absence in the United States (where he had obtained his medical degree at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee in 1937), the United Kingdom (where he practiced medicine), and Ghana. He assumed leadership of the NAC, which later became the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). In 1959, Banda was sent to Gwelo Prison for his political activities but was released in 1960 to participate in a constitutional conference in London.

On April 15, 1961, the MCP won an overwhelming victory in elections for a new Legislative Council. It also gained an important role in the new Executive Council and ruled Nyasaland in all but name a year later. In a second constitutional conference in London in November 1962, the British Government agreed to give Nyasaland self-governing status the following year.

Dr. Banda became Prime Minister on February 1, 1963, although the British still controlled Malawi's financial, security, and judicial systems. A new constitution took effect in May 1963, providing for virtually complete internal self-government. The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved on December 31, 1963, and Malawi became a fully independent member of the Commonwealth (formerly the British Commonwealth) on July 6, 1964. Two years later, Malawi adopted a new constitution and became a one-party state with Dr. Banda as its first president.

In 1970 Dr. Banda was declared President for life of the MCP, and in 1971 Banda consolidated his power and was named President for life of Malawi itself. The paramilitary wing of the Malawi Congress Party, the Young Pioneers, helped keep Malawi under authoritarian control until the 1990s. Increasing domestic unrest and pressure from Malawian churches and from the international community led to a referendum in which the Malawian people were asked to vote for either a multi-party democracy or the continuation of a one-party state. On June 14, 1993, the people of Malawi voted overwhelmingly in favor of multi-party democracy. Free and fair national elections were held on May 17, 1994.

Bakili Muluzi, leader of the United Democratic Front (UDF), was elected President in those elections. The UDF won 82 of the 177 seats in the National Assembly and formed a coalition government with the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD). That coalition disbanded in June 1996, but some of its members remained in the government. The President is referred to as Dr. Muluzi, having received an honorary degree at Lincoln University in Missouri in 1995. Malawi's newly written constitution (1995) eliminated special powers previously reserved for the Malawi Congress Party. Accelerated economic liberalization and structural reform accompanied the political transition.

President Bakili Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF) party leads the Republic of Malawi, which on June 15, 1999, held its second democratic presidential and parliamentary elections since independence in 1964. Independent observers concluded that the elections were free and substantially fair; however, there was limited opposition access to media and problems in voter registration, and the opposition lost appeals of the results in the courts. The seven parliamentary by-elections held since 1999 have been marred by violence, allegations of vote fraud, and contested results. Constitutional power is shared between a popularly elected president and the 193-member National Assembly. The UDF has 96 seats in the National Assembly; the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) has 61 seats; Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) has 30 seats; and there are 6 independent members. There is no clear-cut ideological difference among the three political parties. The Government respects the constitutional provisions for an independent judiciary; however, the judicial system is inefficient and lacks resources.



The country is very poor, with a narrow economic base characterized by a small and highly concentrated industrial sector, low levels of foreign and domestic investment, and few mineral resources. There is little industry and mining. The country's population is estimated to be 10,386,000. Agriculture dominates the economy, contributing nearly half of its gross national product and employs more than 80 percent of the labor force. Tobacco, tea, and sugar generated more than 70 percent of export earnings, with tobacco providing the largest share (approximately 60 percent). The country is landlocked, but improved rail service to the Mozambican deepwater port of Nacala, subsequent to the December 1999 privatization of Malawi Railways, lowered somewhat the share of transport costs for the country's imports. The Government continues to move forward with its multisector privatization program and endorsed private sector participation in infrastructure. Wealth remained concentrated in the hands of a small elite. Annual per capita income was approximately $180 (MK 11,800). Average annual inflation was 30 percent in 2000, down from 44.9 percent in 1999.



Malawi has provided data neither for United Nations nor INTERPOL surveys of crime; however, an estimate of crime is given in the United States State Department's Consular Information Sheet according to which …"Spontaneous civil disturbances, primarily related to labor and student strikes, occur, but they are uncommon… Even though Malawi is known as 'the warm heart of Africa,' both residents and visitors need to bear in mind that there is a criminal element present. Carjackings and residential break-ins are two crimes prevalent throughout Malawi. Perpetrators of these crimes are usually well armed and may resort to violence with little provocation. Petty street crime (robbery and pickpocketing) is common."


The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Malawi's judicial system, based on the English model, is made up of magisterial lower courts, a High Court, and a Supreme Court of Appeal. Local government is carried out in 27 districts within three regions administered by regional administrators and district commissioners who are appointed by the central government. Local elections, the first in the multi-party era, took place in on November 21, 2000. The UDF party won 70% of the seats in this election.



The National Police, headed by the Inspector General of Police under the Ministry of Home Affairs, are responsible for internal security. The police occasionally called on the army for support. There continued to be credible allegations that the police committed human rights abuses in year 2001.

In 2001, there were extrajudicial killings, including deaths of detainees while in, or shortly after release from, police custody. The police are known to beat and otherwise abuse detainees and to use excessive force in handling criminal suspects. There were no reports of political killings; however, there were extrajudicial killings, including deaths of detainees while in, or shortly after release from, police custody. These deaths involved possible use of excessive force or possible negligence.

Frustrated by inadequate law enforcement and rising crime, angry mobs sometimes resorted to vigilante justice in beating, stoning, or burning suspected criminals to death. In March, 2001, in the town of Mulanje, an angry mob beat to death a man charged with armed robbery following his release by authorities.

Serial killings, which occurred during a 3-month period in 2000, brought international attention to the country. During the course of the investigations in February and March 2000, police detained and held approximately 25 suspects. One of the suspects died while in police custody, allegedly due to police abuse. In May 2000, the Director of Public Prosecutions charged 4 suspects with the killings and scheduled 19 suspects for release. Realizing the potential for mob justice or independent acts of violence against the released suspects, police and prosecutors mounted a public information campaign, including town meetings. The 19 suspects were released in June 2000 and were able to return to their communities without incident. In September 2000, the Director of Public Prosecutions dropped the charges against one of the four charged suspects; in October 2000, two of the suspects were sentenced to death, and one was acquitted. The two sentenced to death appealed the conviction. In October the Supreme Court of Appeals dropped all charges against one suspect, but the Court upheld the conviction against the second suspect. Although the one remaining suspect in custody was sentenced to death, the death penalty has not been implemented; the President stated publicly that it would not be used while he is in office.

The Constitution prohibits such practices; however, in 2001, police continued to beat and otherwise abuse detainees and to use excessive force in handling criminal suspects. The Inspectorate of Prisons is an investigative body mandated by the Constitution, and the findings of its 2000 report are considered indicative of prison conditions by domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGO's). The report notes that techniques used by police included beatings, physical assault, and the use of wire instead of handcuffs to restrain prisoners and to force confessions. Police sometimes hide these abuses by keeping prisoners in police custody until wounds heal before turning them over to the prison system for remand. The mistreatment partly is due to the mistaken belief of many police officers that the law requires them to present a case (not just charges) to the court within 48 hours of arrest. Lack of financial resources for appropriate equipment, facilities, and training also contributed to mistreatment.

Police forcibly dispersed two demonstrations during the year 2001. Police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition, which resulted in injuries; one demonstrator was shot and killed.

Police continued efforts to improve investigative skills and to introduce the concept of victims' rights through workshops and other training exercises, particularly in the areas of sexual abuse and domestic violence. While higher-ranking officials demonstrated familiarity with new standards for the humane treatment of prisoners, their subordinates commonly employed unacceptable techniques. The Government continued to seek community involvement in its comprehensive reform of the police. In 1999 Parliament created a community service alternative for some offenders. Four cities have begun pilot community service programs.

There was no known action taken against members of the police who used excessive force when dispersing demonstrations in May and June 2000.

The Constitution prohibits such actions, and the Government generally respects these prohibitions in practice; however, army and police forces, in carrying out sweeps for illegal weapons, did not always obtain search warrants as required by law.



The Constitution grants the accused the rights to challenge the legality of detention, to have access to legal counsel, and to be released on bail or informed of charges by a court of law within 48 hours; however, these rights seldom are respected in practice. The use of temporary remand warrants is widespread and used to circumvent the 48-hour rule. Police often resort to beatings to obtain information deemed necessary to their cases. In cases where the court determines that a defendant cannot afford to supply his own counsel, legal services are provided by the Government. With few persons able to afford legal counsel, the country's seven public defenders were not sufficient to represent all indigent detainees in a timely manner. Bail frequently is granted to reduce prison overcrowding. Its use often bears only a tenuous relationship to the merits of an individual's situation. At year's end 2001, there were 7,920 inmates, 5,491 were convicted prisoners, and 2,401 were pretrial detainees. Only 19 juveniles were in detention. Police are accused of arbitrary arrests due to political motives.

Following the dispersal by police of a rally on January 15, 2001, police arrested the Mayor of Blantyre and three senior police officials. On February 5, the High Court of Blantyre sentenced the Mayor and the police officials to an 18-month suspended sentence.

In 2000 police detained approximately 25 suspects in connection with a series of murders.

The Government does not use forced exile.



The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respects this provision in practice; however, the judicial system is inefficient and is handicapped by serious weaknesses, including poor record keeping, a shortage of attorneys and trained personnel, a heavy caseload, and a lack of resources.

The Constitution provides for a High Court, a Supreme Court of Appeal, and subordinate magistrate courts. The Chief Justice is appointed by the President and confirmed by the National Assembly. The President appoints other justices, following a recommendation by the Judicial Service Commission. All justices are appointed until the age of 65 and may be removed only for reasons of incompetence or misbehavior, as determined by the President and a majority of the Parliament.

On November 2, 2001, members of the UDF ruling party submitted motions in the National Assembly to impeach three High Court justices on allegations of judicial misconduct and incompetence. The National Assembly curtailed the Judicial Service Commission investigation into the cases and voted in favor of removal of the three justices on November 14. On December 10, the President dropped all charges against one justice and ordered the Judicial Service Commission to reconvene to complete its assessment of the allegations against the remaining two justices. No further action was taken by year's end.

By law defendants have the right to a public trial but not to a trial by jury; however, in murder cases, the High Court used juries of 12 persons from the defendant's home district. Defendants also are entitled to an attorney, the right to present and challenge evidence and witnesses, and the right of appeal. However, the judiciary's budgetary and administrative problems effectively denied expeditious trials for most defendants. In 2000 the Department of Public Prosecutions, under the Ministry of Justice, hired 12 paralegals to help reduce the case backlog and assist the very small staff of 10 prosecuting attorneys. The paralegals are to serve as lay prosecutors and to prosecute minor cases in the magistrate courts.

Since 1999 the High Court conducted training for 169 lay magistrates. Traditional court judges, absorbed into the magistrate court system, also receive some training in court procedure and the body of law that they administer. In 1999 the High Court began a 2-month refresher-training program for traditional court judges; however, the program did not continue after 1999. In August High Court judges attended a weeklong workshop on human rights and conflict resolution.

In 2000 Parliament passed the Courts Amendment Bill that was aimed at increasing the civil jurisdiction of magistrates, simplifying small claims procedures, and giving magistrate courts jurisdiction over customary marriages. Since the law was implemented, more cases are handled by magistrate courts that in the past had been referred to the High Court.

Juvenile offenders have special rights under the Constitution, including the right to be separated in custody from adults, to be treated in a manner that recognizes their age and the possibility for rehabilitation, and to be exempt from the punishment of life imprisonment without the possibility of release. However, the protection they are accorded in principle often is denied in practice, and many juvenile offenders are incarcerated with adults.

There were no reports of political prisoners.


In 2001, prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening. The Inspectorate of Prisons was compiling a report on prison conditions during the year 2001; however, it was not completed by year's end. Overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, substandard sanitation, and poor health facilities remained serious problems. Unlike in the previous year, there were no confirmed reports that prison officials beat any prisoner to death.

According to the 2000 Inspectorate of Prisons report, 140 persons died in prison in 1998. Most of the deaths resulted from disease, including tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. In 1999 213 prisoners died at Zomba central prison. Although women are not kept in separate facilities, they are segregated within the prison compound and tended by female guards. Although four prisons are supposed to have separate facilities for juveniles, the separation is inadequate in practice. In the other prisons, juveniles are incarcerated with adults. The law requires pretrial detainees to be held separately from convicted prisoners; however, many prisons cannot comply with this law due to lack of space and inadequate facilities.

The Inspectorate of Prisons, domestic NGO's, and international NGO's are permitted to make visits to monitor prison conditions without government interference. NGO's report good collaboration with prison authorities. During the year 2001, the Prison Reform Committee, with representatives of approximately 20 NGO's and the Office of the Inspectorate of Prisons visited many of the prisons.



Domestic violence, especially wife beating, is common. Society has begun to take the problem of violence against women seriously. The press published frequent accounts of rape and abuse, and the judiciary continued to impose heavier penalties on those convicted of rape. However, domestic violence seldom is discussed openly by women, reportedly even among themselves, and in part due to the lack of resources. In April an NGO in Lilongwe established the country's first confidential shelter for women who are victims of physical or sexual abuse. Between April and December, 72 women sought protection at the shelter. Police do not normally intervene in domestic disputes.

Press coverage of domestic violence increased substantially following a November conference sponsored by NGO's in cooperation with the Ministry of Gender, Youth, and Community Service called "Sixteen Days of Activism." Subsequent workshops were sponsored by NGO's to inform local tribal leaders and journalists on the importance of legislation against domestic violence with a specific focus on spousal rape.

There is anecdotal evidence that a few small ethnic groups practice female genital mutilation (FGM), which is condemned widely by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health.

Under the Constitution, women have the right to full and equal protection by law and may not be discriminated against on the basis of sex or marital status; however, in practice discrimination against women is pervasive, and women do not have opportunities equal to those available to men. Women have significantly lower levels of literacy, education, formal and nontraditional employment opportunities, and access to resources to increase agricultural productivity. The literacy rate among women between the ages of 15 and 45 is less than 37 percent. Male literacy in the same age group is approximately 45 percent.

Women often have less access to legal and financial assistance, and wives often are victims of discriminatory inheritance practices in which the majority of the estate is taken unlawfully by the deceased husband's family. Women usually are at a disadvantage in marriage, family, and property rights, but they have begun to speak out against abuse and discrimination. Households headed by women are represented disproportionately in the lowest quarter of income distribution. In a country where 85 percent of the population is rural, the majority of farmers are women; 70 percent of the rural female population farm full time. Typically women work more hours than men to complete the same farm tasks because they rarely have comparable tools and equipment, and they remain responsible for all household tasks. Women have limited access to agricultural extension services, training, and credit. Some progress has been made in all of these areas with gender training for agricultural extension workers and the gradual introduction of rural credit programs for women. The participation of women in the limited formal labor market is particularly constrained; they constitute less than 5 percent of managerial and administrative staff.



The Constitution provides for equal treatment of children under the law, and during the year 2001, the Government continued a high rate of spending on children's health and welfare. The Government provides free primary education for all children, although education is not compulsory. Girls drop out of school more frequently than boys do, and in the final year of primary school, only approximately 25 percent of students are girls. Despite recent significant gains in girls' access to education, large gaps remain between girls' and boys' achievement levels. Girls, especially in rural areas, historically have been unable to complete even a primary education, and are therefore at a serious disadvantage in finding employment. Accepted economic and social practice hampers the ability of women and girls to gain an education. However, there have been signs of improvement in education for girls. In 1999, the last year for which data is available, girls entered primary school in the same proportion as boys, although only 39 percent of secondary school entrants were female.

Well over half of the country's children live in poverty, mostly in rural areas. Children in rural households headed by women are among the poorest. Only one-third of children have easy access to safe drinking water. Infant mortality is high, and child malnutrition is a serious problem. A few charitable organizations attempted to reduce the number of child beggars in urban areas and find alternative care for them. The problem of street children worsened as the number of orphans whose parents died from HIV/AIDS increased. According to the National Statistic Office's Demographic and Health Survey of 2000, only 60 percent of children under age 15 currently live with both of their biological parents; 23 percent of children under age 15 live with only one parent, while 16 percent are orphans. HIV/AIDS is expected to result in an estimated 364,450 orphans, or 73 percent of all orphans, in the country by 2005. Extended family members normally care for such children and other orphans.

There are societal patterns of abuse of children. FGM is performed on girls. The media also have begun to report on the sexual abuse of children, especially in relation to traditional practices of initiation. While rites to initiate girls into their future adult roles still are secret, information suggests that abusive practices are widespread and quite damaging. Although the age of sexual consent is 14, there is no age specified for the protection of minors from sexual exploitation, child prostitution, or child pornography. The belief that children are unlikely to be HIV positive and the widespread belief that sexual intercourse with virgins can cleanse an individual of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, contributes to the sexual abuse of minors. Child prostitution occurs, but it is not considered a serious problem.



The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons specifically; however, the Penal Code contains several provisions relating to prostitution and indecency that could be used to prosecute traffickers, and there are indications, although not well documented, that some trafficking of women and girls does occur. It is believed that Malawian women are trafficked to South Africa. For example, in March a local newspaper reported that several young women were stranded in brothels in South Africa after being lured by false job offers. Despite a number of press reports, there was no indication of any police investigation of trafficking cases during the year 2001. In 1999 a Malawian woman was tried and acquitted of luring three young women to the Netherlands and subsequently forcing them into prostitution.

The extent of the trafficking problem is undocumented, and neither the Government nor NGO's have viewed it as a problem; however, during the year 2001, increasing media and NGO attention was devoted to the problem. The police and the Ministry of Gender, Youth, and Community Services handle any cases that arise.

In October, 2001, a bill was introduced in the National Assembly, which proposed 14-year sentences for anyone convicted of promoting, managing, or transporting any person into or out of the country with the purpose of engaging that person in prostitution. The National Assembly is expected to vote on this bill during the 2002 session.

There is no government funding for NGO services to victims of trafficking, and there is no training for government officials on how to provide assistance to trafficking victims.



Internet research assisted by Julie M. Carrillo

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