Treatment of homosexuals; availability of state protection [MWI39681.E]

According to The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), homosexuality in Malawi, both gay and lesbian, is illegal (ILGA 23 Apr. 1999). An ILGA legal survey of Malawi states the following:

Section 153 Penal Code, which prohibits "unnatural offences", and Section 156 concerning "public decency", are used to punish homosexual acts. It is reported that, in the past, Europeans who committed homosexual acts with Malawis were prosecuted under Article 156 and expelled as undesirable aliens (ibid.).

During a Peace Corps trainees workshop on "American Diversity in Peace Corps Malawi" an anonymous letter was read describing a homosexual Peace Corps volunteer's experience while serving in Malawi (LGBRPCV Aug. 1997). The volunteer stated that "homosexuality is against the law in Malawi. It is a cultural taboo. Where it exists, it is shrouded in layers of disguise, shame and fear" (ibid.).

Three media reports referring to homosexuality in Malawi were found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate (PANA 11 Nov. 1999; ibid., 13 July 2000; All Africa News 23 Apr. 1999). The reports address the issue of homosexuality in Malawi's beach resort districts, where reportedly "[male] tourists take advantage of ... young men's poverty and illiteracy and woo them into sex" (PANA 11 Nov. 1999). According to Aretha Kamwendo, manager of Dzimwe Community radio, "We first discovered that homosexuality is an issue in the district when we asked the women what major issues of concern are in the district and the issue of homosexuality came up tops" (ibid.).

Regarding state protection of homosexuals, a Human Rights Commission (HRC) was enshrined in Malawi's constitution and enacted in 1994 (HRW 2001). Although not specifically mentioning sexual orientation, the HRC is mandated to "...protect and promote human rights in Malawi in the broadest sense possible and to investigate violations of human rights on its own motion or upon complaints received by any person, class or persons or body" (ibid.). In addition, the HRC commissioners are encouraged to work with the NGO community and with the human rights sector along with other government agencies on human rights issues (ibid.). According to Human Rights Watch, however, the HRC has been "constrained by the lack of enabling parliamentary legislation setting out operating procedures as well as inadequate resources" (ibid.).

According to Behind the Mask, a website on gay and lesbian affairs in Africa, the National League for Democracy and Development (NLDD) based in Blantyre, Malawi, has launched a pilot project called "African Gay Rights Initiative" to promote gay equality in Malawi (n.d.). "The newly formed organization aims to start [a] civil rights campaign to counter all forms of discrimination, to advocate for a Pan African Gay Rights Bill and to establish a resource centre focusing on issues pertaining to gays and HIV/AIDS in Africa" (Behind the Mask n.d.).

No additional information on the treatment of homosexuals in Malawi nor on the availability of state protection for homosexuals could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


All Africa News Agency (AANA) [Lilongwe]. 23 April 1999. "Malawi; Malawians Rally Against Sex Slave Trade Syndicate." (Africa News/NEXIS)

Behind the Mask. n.d. "LGBT Organization Launched." [Accessed 23 Sept. 2002]

Human Rights Watch. 2001. "Protectors or Pretenders? Government Human Rights Commissions in Africa." [Accessed 23 Sept. 2002]

The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA). 23 April 1999. "World Legal Survey." [Accessed 23 Sept. 2002]

Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (LGBRPCV). August 1997. "Just Like You, We Want it All: A Letter from Malawi." [Accessed 23 Sept. 2002]

Pan African News Agency (PANA) [Blantyre]. 13 July 2000. Raphael Tenthani. "Malawi; Juvenile Crime Increase in Malawi Linked to Violent Films." (Africa News/NEXIS)

_____. 11 November 1999. "Malawi: Female Journalists Fight Homosexuality in Malawi." (Africa News/NEXIS)

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases


Internet sites including:

Africa Online

Amnesty International (AI)

BBC Africa

Human Rights Watch (HRW)


World News Connection (WNC)

Search engines including: