Malawi debates its anti-LGBTI law, still on hold

Malawi Justice Minister Janet Chikaya-Banda Malawi has stopped arresting people for same-sex intimacy pending a review of the country's anti-gay laws, Justice Minister Janet Chikaya-Banda told the U.N. Human Rights Committee in July 2014. (Photo courtesy of
Malawi Solicitor General Janet Banda. (Photo courtesy of

For now, Malawi is abiding by the principle that fundamental human rights, including the human rights of LGBTI people, should not be jeopardized by putting them to a vote in a referendum.

Janet Banda, Malawi’s solicitor general, last month said the government will conduct unspecified “public inquiries,” not a referendum, into whether the country’s anti-homosexuality laws should be repealed.

The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) will be in charge of the exploration of public opinion on the subject, Banda said.

“We want to find out the views of the people on the issue and whether we need to change the law as it stands today,” she said.
Grace Malera, the commission’s executive secretary, said her organization will soon invite stakeholders to discuss the format of the inquiries.

President Peter Mutharika has stated that he “wants gay rights protected”  but has also proposed a referendum on them.

Malawi President Peter Mutharika (Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons)
Malawi President Peter Mutharika (Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons)

Since 2012, Malawi has observed a moratorium on enforcement of its anti-LGBTI law, which has been challenged in court as unconstitutional and contrary to Malawi’s commitments to uphold international standards for human rights. The law against same-sex intimacy, if enforced, would provide for prison sentences of up to 14 years for men and up to five years for women.

Three Malawian men remain in prison under the law. They were convicted before the moratorium took effect.
On Dec. 7, 2015, two men were arrested under the law. After protests from local and international human rights advocates, they were released.  On Dec. 19, Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu confirmed that the moratorium remained in effect.


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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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