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Executive Summary

Malawi is a multiparty democracy. Constitutional power is shared between the president and the 193 National Assembly members. On May 21, elections for president, parliament, and local councils were conducted. International observers characterized the elections as competent and professional.

The Malawi Police Service, under the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security, has responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The Malawi Defense Force (MDF) has responsibility for external security. The executive branch sometimes asked the MDF to carry out policing activity. The MDF commander reports directly to the president as commander in chief. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary detention committed by official security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; significant acts of corruption; lack of investigation and enforcement in cases of violence against girls and women, including rape and domestic violence, partly due to weak enforcement; trafficking in persons; and criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct.

In some cases the government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, but impunity remained a problem.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

By law and practice, LGBTI persons are denied basic civil, political, social, and economic rights. Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal, and conviction is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment, including hard labor. The penal code, a legacy from the British colonial era, outlaws “unnatural offenses” and “indecent practices between men.”

Same-sex sexual activity may also be prosecuted as “conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace.” The penalty for conviction of consensual same-sex sexual activity between women is up to five years’ imprisonment.

In 2016, the latest year for which data were available, the Center for the Development of People documented 21 instances of abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The nature of the abuses fell into three broad categories: stigma, harassment, and violence.

In August, Lawrence Phiri, a transgender man, was attacked by an unknown assailant while at a bar in Lilongwe. The attacker preceded the assault by shouting slurs at Phiri and questioning his gender and sexuality. Phiri suffered severe lacerations on the head as a result of the assault.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future