Malawi Suspends Sodomy Laws

Activists Proceed with Caution and Call for Full Repeal

For Immediate Release

Media Contact:

Roberta Sklar, +1.917.704.6358

In a live interview on Zodiac Radio on Novemer 1, Malawi Minister of Justice and Attorney General Ralph Kasambara announced President Joyce Banda’s decision to temporarily suspend the enforcement of laws that criminalize same-sex conduct.

According to the Nyasa Times, Minister Kasambara said, “Police will not arrest or prosecute anyone based on these laws. These laws will not be enforced until the time that Parliament makes a decision.” He continued, “The President has opened up debate and it is now up to all stakeholders including the civil society to encourage robust debate. We agree that as a nation we have to be bold on the issue. The President, however, does not want to interfere or be judgmental.”

During her state of the nation address in May 2012, President Banda announced her intention to repeal the country’s sodomy laws. However, in September 2012, she reversed her position in an interview with the Associated Press. According to Thursday’s announcements, President Banda has suspended the law to facilitate public debate before parliamentary consideration of decriminalization.

Sections 137A, 153 and 156 of the Penal Code of Malawi criminalize consensual sexual activity between individuals of the same sex with penalties ranging up to fourteen years and the option of corporal punishment.

Malawians React

Malawian human rights defenders and journalists took the suspension as a positive sign but responded with caution.

“This is a good direction, but the Malawi Government should walk the talk,” said Gift Trapence, Centre for the Development of People. “Suspending the laws does not mean repealing them. The sodomy laws are still on the books. LGBTI people will only enjoy their rights when the laws are able to protect and recognize them.”

“The Malawi government is trying to buy favors from donors,” said Malawian journalist Anthony Kasunda. “They know it is a very sticky issue and will use the new position taken as a bargaining tool. According to President Banda, she is not ready to repeal the laws. Which means we still have work to do to impress on government and Parliament the need to review the laws.” Kasunda concluded, “As long as they are still in our statutes, they pose a threat that they can be applied. Let's take it as a positive step towards our goal of having the laws criminalising same-sex struck off.”

“This is a really positive development…Only we need to not to be too excited, as government can change positions as done before,” said Undule Mwakasungula, Centre For Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR). “What we need is to engage more with the parliamentarians on this matter as it is being pushed to the House for debate.”

“We congratulate President Banda and her administration for taking an important step forward by suspending laws criminalizing homosexuality, but now, Malawi must not back down,” said Damian Ugwu, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). “Only outright repeal of the sodomy laws can provide equality and equal protection for all Malawians. Furthermore, the government must ensure the safety and security of LGBT people so that they, too, can participate as full citizens in the national dialogue.”

The radio program in which Minister Kasambara announced the law’s suspension, organized by CHRR and CEDEP, focused on the theme Protecting Sexual Minorities in the Context of Human Rights and the HIV and AIDS Epidemic.

A Timeline of Recent Developments in LGBT Rights in Malawi is also available on our website.

According to Malawi’s Nyasa Times on November 6th, opposition responses include Malawi’s political "rubble-rouser” Kamlepo Kalua who has called for anti-gay protests saying "Malawi should not allow homosexuality."

A Timeline of Recent Developments in LGBT Rights in Malawi

December 2009: On December 27, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were arrested after a commitment ceremony and charged with "unnatural offenses" and "indecent practices between males," Sections 153 and 156 of the Malawi Penal Code, which carry a maximum sentence of 14 and 5 years in prison respectively.

May 2010: On May 18, the Magistrate’s Court in Blantryre convicted Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza for “unnatural offences” and “indecent practices between males” under Sections 153 and 156 of the Malawi Penal Code. On May 20, the two were sentenced to 14 years with hard labor, the maximum possible sentence.

May 2010: On May 29, during a visit by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika ordered the unconditional pardon and immediate release from prison of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza. The two had been incarcerated since their arrest six months prior.

January 2011: Sex between women was criminalized for the first time in the country’s history when President Mutharika signed a bill amending the Malawi Penal Code, adding Section 137A. The amendment, entitled, “Indecent practices between females,” provides that any female person who, whether in public or private, commits “any act of gross indecency with another female” shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a prison term of five years.

October 2011: The United Nations Human Rights Committee reviewed the Government of Malawi’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. CEDEP, CHRR and IGLHRC submitted a shadow report and testified before the Committee at its meeting in Geneva.

December 2011: Justice Minister Ephraim Chiume, under President Mutharika, ordered the Malawi Law Commission to review the compliance of the "indecent practices and unnatural acts" law, the law used to crominalize homesexuality, with international human rights standards.

June 2012: The Human Rights Committee, in its Concluding Observations to the review of Malawi, calls upon the State to "amend its Penal Code to decriminalize homosexuality between adults of both sexes, and conduct awareness-raising campaigns to educate the population on this issue."

May 2012: New President Joyce Banda declared she would repeal Malawi’s ban on homosexuality, saying, "Some laws which were duly passed by the august house... will be repealed as a matter of urgency... these include the provisions regarding indecent practices and unnatural acts."

September 2012: President Banda reversed her earlier stance, saying, "Anyone who has listened to the debate in Malawi realizes that Malawians are not ready to deal with that right now. I as a leader have no right to influence how people feel," she said, speaking with the Associated Press in New York after addressing the United Nations General Assembly.

For more information, contact:
Damian Ugwu, Program Coordinator, IGLHRC: dugwu@iglhrc.org


The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), founded in 1990, is a leading international human rights organization dedicated to improving the lives of people who experience discrimination or abuse on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. We are dedicated to strengthening the capacity of the LGBT human rights movement worldwide to conduct documentation of LGBT human rights violations and by engaging in human rights advocacy with partners around the globe. We work with the United Nations, regional human rights monitoring bodies and civil society partners. IGLHRC holds consultative status at the United Nations as a recognized Non-Governmental Organization representing the concerns and human rights of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender people worldwide. For more information about the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission visit: www.iglhrc.org.

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