The Malawi Human Rights Commission has released a report finding police responsible for the death, by torture, of a man unlawfully arrested on suspicion of being involved in the abduction and killing of a child with albinism. This is just the latest development in the horror of Malawi’s increasingly endangered albino people, murdered for their body parts to satisfy occult beliefs, and it follows just days after a high court judge passed the death sentence on the convicted killer of a man with albinism (see separate story).
The last court-imposed execution was carried out in Malawi during 1992. Some 15 people were on death row at the end of 2017, and though the number has increased since then there have been no further hangings. However, the question of whether the death penalty will ever actually be carried out has now been given a new urgency, following the sentence of a man convicted for murdering a fellow villager with albinism in the apparent belief that this would make him rich. Sentencing the accused, the judge reasoned that the whole country lived in fear because of “devilish, primitive” crimes against albino people, and that the courts had a duty to impose the ultimate sentence as a deterrent.
Malawi’s high court judge Zione Jane Veronica Ntaba is no stranger to controversy. Among her decisions she found her country’s Chief Justice, Andrew Nyirenda and the whole of the Malawi Judicial Service Commission had acted irregularly, illegally and unconstitutionally. Now she has made another noteworthy decision, turning down a request to have the second half of a potentially sensational trial broadcast by the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. Here’s the background – and her reasons.
Malawi’s former agriculture minister, George Chaponda, was a key figure in that country’s “Maizegate” scandal around the importation of maize from Zambia to replenish stocks that had allegedly fallen low. Public criticism of apparent corruption led to a presidential commission of inquiry and then to high court action to have Chaponda stand down during the inquiry. Though the high court initially ordered Chaponda’s suspension, the supreme court has just ruled that it was wrong to do so, and that the judge had ignored binding precedent. The judgment was important for clarifying Malawi’s approach to judicial review. It has also taken an in-depth look at presidential prerogative, among other issues.
When a number of court clerks obtained an order temporarily stopping the country’s Judicial Service Commission and the Chief Justice from recruiting and appointing a certain category of magistrate until their employment dispute was fully considered by the high court, the stage was set: some high court judge would have to consider whether Malawi’s top judge and judicial appointment authority were acting illegally. Judge Zione Ntaba drew the short straw. Faced with this difficult and sensitive question she said the JSC had to devise policy on crucial human resources issues, so that decisions on the appointments of magistrates should be clear, unambiguous and consistent.