By Feston Malekezo:
Amnesty International, a London-based human rights non-governmental organisation, has described as cruel the recent death sentence meted out to a 28-year-old man who killed a 19-year-old person with albinism in Thyolo in January 2017.
The High Court sitting in Thyolo District on May 3 2019 sentenced to death Willard Mikaele for murdering Mphatso Pensulo, a person with albinism.
“Amnesty International is opposed to the death penalty and it believes that it is a cruel and inhuman form of punishment which will not deter further attacks against persons with albinism. Malawi needs an effective criminal justice system, including fair trials,” the statement, released Wednesday, reads.
Passing the judgement, Justice Maclean Kamwambe said he meted out the stiff sentence to Mikaele, who pleaded guilty to the killing of Pensulo, because such an act dents the image of Malawi and instils fear in persons with albinism.
Legal practitioner Wesley Mwafulirwa agreed with Amnesty.
“According to reports, death sentence is based on vengeance and people can still commit crimes of similar nature. And true from the international human rights perspective, the move is towards elimination of death sentence but then the dilemma we have is that our Constitution [of the Republic of Malawi] allows for death sentence… and then if you look at Section 19 of the Constitution, it talks of inhuman treatment which says people should not be subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. But it is a controversial issue because Malawians want the sentence,” he said.
Amnesty Southern Africa Regional Director, Deprose Muchena, said they have also documented deaths in custody of suspected perpetrators of crimes against persons with albinism, including Buleya Lule, who died while in police custody on February 21 in Lilongwe District as a result of torture.
Muchena said the suspects in the killing of Lule must be brought to justice.
“The incoming government of Malawi must prioritise rebuilding the criminal justice system, ensuring that it works for all people, including people with albinism, who are some of society’s most vulnerable individuals. The first step is to ensure sufficient funding for the Judiciary and prioritising training for prosecutors to effectively deal with cases of attacks on people with albinism. People with albinism deserve justice for the hateful crimes against them. The impunity must stop,” he said.
Malawi’s elections, due next Tuesday, will take place in the context of longstanding criminal justice failures and widespread impunity for the killing of people with albinism, according to Amnesty.
The number of reported crimes against people with albinism in Malawi has risen to over 163 cases, including 22 murders, since November 2014, according to official figures.
Malawi has an estimated at 8,000 to 10,000 persons with albinism.