Malawi: Law students help reverse Malawi death penalty sentence

After 19 years in a Malawi prison under threat of a death sentence, Abraham Galeta has been set free, thanks to the work of students in the International Human Rights Clinic at Cornell Law School. In the process, the students acquired valuable skills they might use in future criminal cases.
The young man had killed his stepfather, who had been in the act of viciously beating his mother to the point that she called out for help in fear for her life. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death; in Malawi such sentences are often delayed.
Clinic students interviewed Galeta in prison. He had not spoken to a lawyer since his death sentence was imposed in 1996. Traveling to Galeta’s remote village, Malawi paralegals trained by Sandra Babcock, clinical professor of law, interviewed witnesses to bring out the extenuating circumstances.
They also interviewed village elders to establish that Galeta was of good character and would be accepted if he returned to the village. On the basis of this evidence, and drawing from both Malawian and international legal precedents, Cornell clinic students prepared pleadings for Malawi lawyers to submit to the country’s high court. Galeta’s sentence was reduced to a term of years, resulting in immediate release.
“We have achieved results because we work in collaboration with local partners, and we’re very humble about our contribution,” Babcock said. “It provides a really good example of how a U.S.-based university can collaborate in a way that is not intrusive.”
Malawi has an independent judiciary and a small corps of well-trained lawyers, Babcock said, but it is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has fewer than 20 public defenders nationwide, and they have limited support.
“What we can do is provide what we have at our disposal: students who have the time and access to legal resources,” Babcock explained.
In recent years students have reversed several other unjust convictions in Malawi. Since January the International Human Rights Clinic has been involved in 36 hearings, securing the release of 24 prisoners and commuting 12 to a term of years as an alternative to a death sentence.
In one case, a deranged man set fire to a building and burned to death, and three brothers who had gone in to rescue him were arrested because they were found at the scene. In another, a woman was accused of murder for killing her husband when he was beating her in a drunken rage. The status of women is a recurring issue, Babcock noted. Often, she said, a physical attack on a woman by a man might be reported as just a “quarrel.” Alcohol also is frequently involved, she added.
“The whole premise of this project is that you need to look at the whole person and the facts of the crime,” Babcock said, “and you take all those facts into account in deciding who should be released.”
The International Human Rights Clinic is a course Babcock teaches in the Law School. Her title “clinical professor” means that she leads students through real-world cases. She encourages students to take the course more than once, because each time around offers a different experience. Next year, the clinic will continue to work in Malawi and will add new challenges.
“We hope to expand the work to another country with the same problems because we’ve learned so much,” Babcock said. They also will examine women’s rights issues in Myanmar, she added.
Cornell also has clinics on LGBT rights, capital punishment, labor law and immigration, all led by professors with practical experience.
Source: Cornell Chronicle, July 17, 2015

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Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) are calling for homosexual people in the country to be given the death penalty

february 17, 2014

This suggestion comes at a time as some Civil Society Organisations (CSO) are pushing for the country to abolish the statute that penalise the act. Currently the maximum jail term sentence for those found guilty by the courts is 14 years.

In what will be viewed as stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation, MAM Secretary General Dr Salmin Omar Idrussi is advancing that homosexuality should remain criminalised and the maximum sentence should be pegged at death.

“Although Malawi is regarded as a secular state but the country is blessed with God fearing citizens who can’t afford to deviate from God’s commandments for the sake of pleasing others who practice the act,’’ Idrussi is quoted by, an official website for Malawi Muslims.

‘‘Even animals like goats don’t do this, what more with human beings like us who were blessed with wisdom by the Almighty God? The offenders need to be handed death penalty as a way of making sure that the issue is curbed.”

Idruss argues that capital punishment was the only way to rid society of homosexuality.

He said Muslims condemn sinful behaviour in society and would want death penalty clause in the laws for homosexuality.

Recently, Christian churches called for the government to call for a referendum for Malawians to make a choice on the matter.

Sheikh Idrussi said the plebiscite should be asking people whether they are happy with the current law which attracts a maximum penalty of a 14 year jail term of put death penalty.

UNAids, the Malawi Law Society and Malawian rights groups have asked the High Court to overturn as unconstitutional laws banning same-sex relationships.

They also challenge the convictions of three men jailed in 2011.

The three men convicted in 2011 by a Magistrate’s court in Blantyre are Amon Champyunu, Mathews Bello and Mussa Chiwisi. All are serving long jail term ranging from 10 to 14 years.

But Supreme Court of Appeal has granted Government a stay order stopping proceedings of the matter.

“As long as same-sex relationships are consensual and in private no one has business to get bothered,” law society spokesman Felicia Kilembe said.

In Malawi, homosexuality became contentious in 2009, when two men were arrested and charged with public indecency for getting married in a traditional ceremony. Gay activists want the court to declare the laws criminalising homosexuality unconstitutional.

(Source: Nyasa Times)