First, Malawi’s courts found it was unconstitutional for the death penalty to be mandatory in cases where the accused was convicted of murder. Now the apex court has found, by an overwhelming majority, that the death penalty itself is unconstitutional, and has ordered that everyone on death row must be re-sentenced. One member of the court dissented, without ever commenting on the issue of the constitutionality of the death penalty, finding that the route to resolving the appeal before the nine judges could be resolved in a different way.
Two women journalists, released from prison in Rwanda after serving their full jail terms for writing and publishing articles that ‘endangered national security’, have been vindicated by the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights. In its decision officially published last week, the commission found that Rwanda’s laws on defamation and freedom of expression violated the African Charter and should be amended. The two journalists, Agnes Uwimana-Nkusi and Saidati Mukakibibi, were charged in connection with articles published in 2010. They were originally sentenced to far longer prison terms, but on appeal this was reduced to four and three years respectively. While they were serving their sentences, international organisations helped mount a case before the African Commission, testing whether certain of Rwanda’s laws that impact on the media, including criminal defamation, were compatible with the African Charter. The commission has now officially found these laws violate the charter and have ‘requested’ that Rwanda amend its laws so that they comply with the rights guaranteed in the Charter.
The Namibian high court has ruled that it cannot order the government to issue emergency travel documents for newborn twins to come into the country. The babies were born to a South African surrogate mother. Their fathers, married in South Africa, are a Namibian and a Mexican. The babies have birth certificates, issued by the SA authorities, indicating that the Namibian is the father of the children. However, the Namibian minister of home affairs and immigration is insisting on a DNA test before any official documents will be issued for the twins. This would be to establish whether the Namibian man is the biological father, rather than the Mexican spouse. While the issue is fought in the courts and government offices, the Namibian father, with the two babies, is stuck in SA and cannot legally cross into Namibia with the twins.
A prominent judge of Malawi’s high court has announced her recusal from a case involving the death of a woman allegedly at the hands of her husband. Judge Fiona Mwale has recused herself from the trial following claims by the family of the dead woman that bribe money had been collected to pay the presiding officer in the matter. She said that there was no truth in the claim, but that she felt she had to quit the trial so that the bribery allegation could be investigated. The trial has now been adjourned so that another judge may be appointed to deal with the case.
Thanks to the determined efforts of the women involved, no fewer than three recent decisions in Malawi have dealt with sexual assault, harassment or rape under extremely troubling circumstances. The trio of cases will surely act as a boost to awareness of women’s constitutional rights in Malawi, to add pressure on the police to investigate and on employers to act in cases of workplace sexual harassment.