Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1985

The President of Malawi, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, has maintained
nearly undisputed control over political life and government
since independence in 1964, and he was proclaimed "Life
President" in 1970. Opposition to the Government is banned and
challenges to the system are suppressed. Total loyalty, not
merely passive acceptance of party and government policy, is
demanded under penalty of suspicion, if not detention, by the
authorities. Civil liberties exist at the sufferance of the
authorities and are highly circumscribed. Political activity
is limited to participation in the sole legal party, the Malawi
Congress Party. Military, police, and party security organs
form a pervasive network which monitors civilian activity
throughout the land.
Malawi inherited a parliamentary form of government from Great
Britain. Elections are held every 5 years. Constitutional
amendments and laws passed by the 101-member Parliament reflect
decisions already taken by the President.
Malawi is still a very poor country. However, since
independence the Government has used good planning and wise
investment of the limited available resources to promote
economic development. An emphasis on agricultural production
for food self-sufficiency and exports has gradually improved
the standard of living.
During 1985, two cases received outside attention from human
rights groups. Appeals and inquiries were made on behalf of
Orton and Vera Chirwa, both serving life sentences for treason
(commuted from death sentences in 1984). Amnesty International
has also expressed concern for three journalists detained in
March 1985, reportedly because of a misquote published in the
local newspapers. At the end of 1985, the journalists were
still being detained, although no charges had been made against
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
There were no allegations of politically motivated killings
during 1985.
b. Disappearance
In the past, surreptitious detentions by the police, acting at
the behest of the party, have been behind disappearances
lasting from a few weeks to several months. There are no known
instances in which such detentions have led to death. There
were no known political disappearances in 1985.
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Beatings by the police at the time of detention or arrest, or
during interrogation, are not officially condoned but do
occur. Prison terms of hard labor are the norm for common
criminals, with political detainees normally receiving less
harsh or degrading treatment. Prison conditions are generally
poor .
The Forfeiture Act permits the Government to revoke the
property rights of those suspected of economic crimes. These
actions sometimes have political overtones. When the
Forfeiture Act is invoked, the individual — but not his
family — loses all worldly possessions, including business,
financial holdings, and personal possessions. Revocation of
property rights constitutes an executive fiat with no judicial
review. Notice of forfeiture must be published in the Official
Gazette. There were no such cases published in 1985.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
At any given time a number of individuals are detained
arbitrarily for real or perceived offenses against the party or
Government. Malawi residents (including Africans and those of
Asian extraction) may be picked up almost at the whim of the
authorities, held without charge for varying lengths of time,
beaten, and released after several weeks or months. The usual
cause for such treatment is suspected disloyalty to the
President or expression of views which differ even slightly
from the accepted norm. An unknown number of political
prisoners are said to be under a loose form of detention such
as house arrest. Rarely are those so detained charged
officially and brought before either traditional or modern
courts. A suspect may also be held without charge for a long
period of time while authorities develop a case. It is
impossible to estimate the number of arbitrary detentions and
arrests made in Malawi in 1985. Forced labor is not practiced
in Malawi except as a form of criminal punishment.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Those charged with criminal offenses are tried in either the
traditional or modern court system, depending on the nature of
the charge. Those charged under the military codes of justice
are tried in military courts. Lawyers usually are not
permitted to assist the defendant in traditional court cases,
but legal counsel is permitted in the modern court system. In
the latter case, the defendant has the right of access to
counsel before and during the judicial proceedings. In
practice. Government and party exert little control over the
trial system in cases tried before the high court or magistrate
courts; hence, the modern judiciary is almost totally
independent of the executive branch, notwithstanding the fact
that the President appoints the Chief Justice of the high court
who, in turn, appoints other modern court justices. These
courts are open to the public, and defendants are charged
Traditional court justices are appointed directly by the
President. The right of appeal exists in both the modern and
traditional court systems. It is generally believed that there
is little executive interference in traditional court cases
dealing in matters of customary law, and there is no evidence
of indirect executive pressure on traditional courts
adjudicating cases of a political nature. Although the
decision is that of the Director of Public Prosecution or the
Attorney General, the recent trend indicates that political
prisoner cases are likely to be tried before a traditional
court, as in the Chirwa case. Amnesty International, in its
1985 report, noted that Orton and Vera Chirwa, by being tried
in a traditional court rather than a high court, were placed at
a disadvantage: they were denied the right to legal
representation and the rules of evidence observed in the high
court did not apply.
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
In private life, most people are not unduly affected by
government authority. Malawian law calls for the issuance of
individual search warrants before any home may be entered, but
this is not always observed in practice. Police and
quasi-military groups enter houses of suspects at will under
special entry authority to conduct searches for people or
incriminating evidence. Correspondence is. monitored by the
authorities, and those violating prescribed norms are punished.
Section. 2 .Respect for Civil Rights, Including:
a. -Freedom of Speech and Press
Criticism of the Government and its policies is not tolerated.
This proscription extends even to the. Par 1 lament , where the
expression of total loyalty to the President ^and his Government
is both expected and enforced under threat of expulsion or
worse. All media are under direct or indirect government
control. The two newspapers and sole radio station disseminate
news directly authorized by the Government Information Agency
and operate under informal self-censorship guidelines.
Recently, both media have exhibited increasing candor in
coverage of international issues. In practice, the principal
focus of government censorship is on material deemed critical
of the Government . Some freedom of inquiry into the natural
and social sciences exists at the university level and may
include some examination of pol itical ' ideologies at radical
-variance with those of the Government, provided this does not
extend to explicit criticism of the Government.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Individuals and organizations are generally free to meet and
associate as long as the purpose is not to protest against
government or party policy or practices. Professional,
fraternal, and service organizations exist and are encouraged
by the Government. No political meetings are permitted other
than those of the party.
Labor unions exist, but their activities are highly
circumscribed and generally ineffective. Collective bargaining
is allowed but its use is limited. Strikes are not legally
prohibited but rarely occur. Labor unions come under the
Malawi Trade Union Congress, which, in turn, is subject to
direction by the Ministry of Labor. With Government permission
and supervision, the trade union organization associates with
international organizations, and the Malawi Trade Union
Congress is a member of the Organization of African Trade Union
Unity and of the International Confederation of Free Trade
Unions. While the labor movement has yet to achieve
significant gains for its constituents, the principal
explanation for its failure is economic rather than political:
the economy of Malawi can sustain only a small number of wage
earners, most of whom occupy positions as unskilled laborers on
large estate farms.
c. Freedom of Religion
There is relative freedom of religion in Malawi for all
religions whose particular religious tenets do not preclude
recognition of the temporal authority of the state. Jehovah's
Witnesses have been banned since 1967 because the Government
considers the sect's activities to be disruptive of "the
prevailing calm, law, and order." There is no state or
preferred religion, and conversion from one religion to another
is permitted. There are no restrictions on religious
observances and ceremonies which do not impinge on government
authority. Religious groups may establish places of worship
and train clergy. There is no licensing of religious groups,
but their publications, like all others, are subject to
government censorship. Religious groups are free to establish
and maintain links with coreligionists in other countries and
are also free to travel abroad. Similarly, missionaries from
abroad are permitted to enter Malawi and proselytize. There is
no tie between any particular religion and the Malawi Congress
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Few restrictions are placed on movement within Malawi, but
denial of passports on political grounds frequently extends to
family members of persons in political disfavor and to those
persons whom the Government suspects may criticize it if
allowed to travel abroad. Legal provisions exist for
restricting movement of those convicted of political or
criminal offenses. Formal emigration is neither restricted nor
encouraged. With the exception of a small group of political
dissidents, there is no outward flow of Malawian refugees from
the country. Expatriates born in Malawi may return.
Citizenship may be revoked, but in practice this is not done.
Malawi does not accord official refugee status but has given
medical and other relief to displaced persons from neighboring
countries and has pursued a policy of persuading rather than
coercing them to return to their own lands. Asian residents
and citizens are free to travel within the country but must
reside and work in one of three urban areas (Lilongwe, Zomba,
and Blantyre/Limbe) . Within some of these urban centers,
strict rules governing where Asians may own property result in
limitations on where they may reside. Asian residents, whether
Malawian citizens or not, have been compelled to transfer
ownership of rural shops and trucking businesses to ethnic
African Malawian citizens. Asians are free to expand into
other areas of business, however, and industrial licenses for
new Asian businesses are routinely granted.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
All political decisions are made either directly by the
President or those few closely associated with him. No
opposition political parties or movements are permitted.
Membership in the only political party is not mandatory, but
active membership is expected of those who aspire to government
positions (including the civil service) or even professional
success. Access to government services, and to some
nongovernment services such as local markets, is frequently
based upon party membership. Nearly half of the population has
at least nominal party membership. The party's pervasiveness
and broad-based structure provide for some choice among
candidates for party, parliamentary,, or other offices. For
example, as was the case in the 1983 election, there are often
three candidates for election to a parliamentary constituency.
All nominees, however, are selected by the party and submitted
to the President for vetting. Active campaigning is not
permitted. The National Assembly (Parliament) consists of both
elected and appointed members and is mainly concerned with
ratifying government policy. Its powers are broadly based in
law but highly circumscribed in practice. Women are entitled
to party membership and voting rights, and hold 13 of 101
elected seats in parliament. No women hold ministerial-level
appointments .
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
The Government does not permit organizations such as the
International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty
International to conduct investigations in Malawi. No
nongovernmental organizations devoted to the furtherance of
human rights are permitted to exist. Expressions of interest
in alleged human rights problems by outside groups or
individuals are not welcomed and are usually ignored. Few
government officials are even willing to discuss the subject of
human rights. In its 1985 Report, Amnesty International
continued to express concern about detentions without trial and
the lack of effective safeguards against ill-treatment of
political detainees. Freedom House considers Malawi "not free.'
Malawi is a small, densely-populated, landlocked country, whose
principal assets are moderately fertile soil, good water
resources, and a climate favorable to crop production. Despite
the strides made since independence, Malawi remains one of the
world's least developed countries. Per capita gross national
product in 1984 measured only $200, reflecting the absence of
any appreciable industrial base in the economy. Malawi's
current population of 7.1 million people is growing at an
estimated annual rate of 3.3 percent.
Possessing no significant mineral resources, Malawi has since
independence pursued a successful export-oriented agricultural
growth strategy. The estate sector produces tea, tobacco, and
sugar for export, while smallholders cultivate maize, and to a
lesser extent, tobacco, cotton, groundnuts, and vegetables. In
recent years, the country has been self-sufficient in food
production and has exported surplus maize to its neighbors.
Over 90 percent of the workforce is still engaged in
subsistence agriculture.
Beginning in the mid-1970 's, the country experienced mounting
balance of payments problems and a halt to economic growth, due
to such factors as escalation in import prices of fuel and
capital goods; cyclical swings in the prices of agricultural
exports; and interruptions in and resulting higher costs of
transport in traditional rail routes to the Indian Ocean. With
assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the World
Bank, the Government embarked on an ambitious structural
adjustment program aimed at restoring economic growth and
achieving a sustainable balance of payments position. Economic
growth has spurted in the last 2 years with gross domestic
product increasing 4.5 percent and 6.8 percent in 1983 and 1984
Life expectancy at birth is 45 years and the infant mortality
rate is 159 per 1000 live births. About 37 percent of the
rural population and 77 percent of the urban population have
access to safe water supplies (1980). Calorie supply is 96
percent of requirements (1977). Primary school enrollment has
climbed dramatically since independence with the 1980
enrollment ratio of school-age children-estimated at 83 percent
(male 95 percent, female 70 percent). The adult literacy rate
is estimated to be 25 percent.
The minimum working age is 14, though this applies only to the
relatively small urban sector. Less than 15 percent of the
work force is employed in the formal wage sector. For those
fortunate enough to hold paid jobs, wages and working
conditions are generally adequate, and paid holidays and safety
standards in the workplace are required by law. However, wage
levels are low, reflecting the abundance of unskilled labor,
and the Government's desire to limit the rural-urban income gap
and hence the rate of internal migration.
As mothers, women have enjoyed a high degree of access to the
traditional health services and to extension programs geared
toward improving women's homemaking abilities. Such .programs ,
while beneficial, have failed to recognize the importance of
women as agricultural producers in the rural sector (roughly 70
percent of all smallholder farming and over 50 percent of
subsistence holdings are headed by women) and the potential
role women can have in the modern sector. Although males still
have a comparative advantage in terms of educational and
employment opportunities, the Government has initiated
sufficiently broad-scale programs to begin to rectify the
discrimination which exists. A third of the positions in the
public education system have been reserved for women. Within
Malawi's traditional and primarily matrilineal tribal
leadership structures, there are several small ethnic groups
wherein women possess fewer rights and privileges and where
female circumcision is occasionally practiced.
Malawi enjoys a considerable degree of ethnol inguistic
uniformity. The vast majority of the population speaks and/or
understands Chichewa, which was declared the national language
in 1968. English is the official language for government and
business. Malawi's indigenous groups are sufficiently alike in
culture and social organization to permit relatively easy
interaction, including intermarriage, mixing in agricultural
settlements, and mixed grouping for political purposes.