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MHRC Weighs in on Contentious Land Issue in Mulanje, Thyolo

By Watipaso Mzungu

Landless people in Thyolo during protests few months ago

State-funded Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has appealed to the government to come up with a clear short term and long-term strategy to address the plight of landless Malawians in Thyolo and Mulanje districts.

The Commission Executive Secretary, Habiba Osman, emphasized that this requires an urgent response by the government.

Osman has made the appeal in her response to the submissions relating to the notice of swearing in ceremony of leader of the People’s Land Organization (PLO), Vincent Wandale, and land related issues in Thyolo and Mulanje from the Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI).

“The Commission, based on several submissions it has received from stakeholders including CDEDI and yourself as well as its own preliminary fact finding and consultations on land issues, is of the strong view that a long-lasting solution to the land question in Mulanje and Thyolo must be found. While this may be broadly addressed in the ongoing land laws review, there is need for Government to come up with a clear short term and long-term strategy to address the plight of many landless Malawians in Thyolo and Mulanje. This requires an urgent response by Government,” reads the response dated June 29, 2021.

She assured that MHRC shall continue engaging and monitoring on the land issue in Mulanje and Thyolo as part of its mandate and where possible advice on all human rights related issues developing in that area.

On the intended swearing in of Wandale, the Commission said it is aware of the pending court case in which Wandale is seeking advice on.

“The said case, being the State vs Vincent Wanda/e Crimina/ Case Number 939 of 2017, is still pending, as such, in cognizance of that fact and the mandate section 15 (2) of the Constitution gives the courts to remedy any grievances in respect of violations of rights, the Commission shall desist from advising you on this matter, which are specific to the issues the Court endeavours to make a determination on,” responded Osman.

On the other hand, the Bright High Commission Chargé d’ Affairs, Fiona Ritchie, has rejected an appeal by the CDEDI for Great Britain to intervene on the ongoing land disputes in Thyolo and Mulanje districts.

The human rights organization had made a number of demands, including release of idle land for distribution to landless people, sharing holding right in tea, coffee, macadamia and tung plantations.

CDEDI had given the British Government 90 days to act on the demands, failing which this would be construed as outright approval.

But in her response to CDEDI, Ritchie said it is not within the remit of Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) or the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to become involved in private land disputes of this [Thyolo and Mulanje] nature as neither HMG nor the FCDO have jurisdiction overseas to resolve such matters.

“However, I can confirm that the property and assets of the Government of Nyasaland as well as the rights, liabilities and obligations of the Crown, passed to the Government of Malawi under The Malawi Independence Order 1964. This was made under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act 1890 and the Malawi Independence Act 1964,” she said her response dated March 30, 2021.

“I do hope that, moving forward, the people so badly affected by these issues, the landowners and other parties can come together and work on an agreement that will benefit all parties moving forward. Malawi is an independent, sovereign country, and we trust that the Malawian people and their institutions will find a solution,” added Ritchie.

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