Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Malawi is a multiparty democracy that in 2004 elected Bingu wa Mutharikaz, who was then a member of the United Democratic Front, as president. Constitutional power is shared between the president and the 193 National Assembly Members. International observers witnessed substantial shortcomings in the 2004 general elections, including inequitable access to the state owned media, the ruling party's use of state resources to campaign, and poor planning and administration by the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC). The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, and while civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were some instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of government authority. Instances of unlawful killing by security forces, and police use of excessive force including torture, occurred. There was occasional mob violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, politically motivated arrests, lengthy pretrial detention, corruption, and societal violence against women. Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening. The government occasionally restricted freedom of assembly and also limited freedom of speech and the press. Government efforts to combat trafficking in persons and child labor continued, but problems remained. The government also took steps to prosecute and punish some abusers.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

Support for the development of the country's democracy is a top priority for the United States. The first step toward better governance is conducting free and fair elections. Other milestones in the country's democratic process over the next three years will include holding local elections in 2010 and establishing more extensive and predictable work sessions for parliament. The U.S. Government will focus democracy and governance funding on strengthening legislative and judicial capacity, as well as civil society participation, and working against corruption. Improving the human rights capacity of the country's security forces remained a priority. In addition, the United States continued to focus on an independent media and on the country's trafficking problem.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

The ambassador and other U.S. officials frequently have engaged in advocacy with the president, members of the National Assembly (both government and opposition), senior officials, and civil society in support of principles and institutions of democracy. The U.S. Government has placed a particular emphasis on the need for free, fair, credible, and peaceful elections in 2009. The United States supports election preparations through financial support to the MEC for civic education that has reached over 3.2 million people using radio advertisements, posters, and drama groups. The United States has been at the forefront in advocating and planning robust electoral observation. The United States will provide critical technical support for local observation to reduce the risk of disputed results and violence in the 2009 national elections. The United States participated in a multilateral election task force and coordinated accreditation and observation of diplomatic missions for the voter registration process. The United States regularly engaged with government and opposition political parties as well as civil society organizations to encourage open dialogue between parties to resolve political disputes.

The embassy promotes political rights, judicial independence, independent media, and anticorruption efforts through the International Visitor Leadership Program, which exposes local decision-makers to U.S. culture and political and legal systems. In addition, the embassy hosted many events to raise awareness of key issues related to advancing freedom and democracy, including leading a roundtable discussion on elections and governance, hosting a public debate on the role of media in promoting free and fair elections, and holding a digital video conference (DVC) on Muslim participation in socio-economic and political affairs. The ambassador hosted an election event for high-level government, civil society, and media personnel that highlighted the peaceful conduct of elections and handover of power in successful democracies. American volunteers fostered student-driven community development clubs in secondary schools to teach democracy and encourage grassroots problem solving skills to the next generation of local leaders. The United States supports anticorruption efforts through continued engagement with the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the country's Police Service, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the business community. The United States was a participant on the multilateral anticorruption task force. The United States also funded the Malawi Business Action Against Corruption, which facilitated the development of an anticorruption business code of conduct and rating system for businesses in the country.

The United States supported civil-military relations through military training programs that encouraged professionalism and respect for human rights. The Country's Police Service was trained through the International Law Enforcement Academy to improve management capacity and human rights awareness. The United States promoted access to legal services for the poor by purchasing equipment and books for the Legal Aid Department of the Ministry of Justice.

The United States supports many programs to promote an independent media, including financial support for the Media Institute of Southern Africa for its annual recognition of press freedom and journalistic excellence in the country. The United States funded the Media Council of Malawi, which finalized the Media Code of Conduct in anticipation of the 2009 electoral season. The embassy performed outreach to the Muslim community by training Muslim youth groups on technology and the Internet and funding the first-ever Muslim Youth Assembly strategic planning conference, which developed a plan to encourage greater community participation in societal issues.

Through participation with government and NGOs on the Malawi Child Trafficking Network and Child Protection Working Group, the United States encourages the combating of human rights violations and trafficking in persons. The embassy hosted a DVC on eliminating gender-based violence and a Web chat on human rights. The United States supports programs to address exploitative labor, particularly child labor. U.S. Government assistance funded programs to address child domestic servitude and exploitative child labor in the agricultural sector.