November 7, 2012
Malawi has suspended anti-gay laws and ordered police not to arrest people who commit homosexual acts, pending a debate on whether to repeal legislation. Malawi President Joyce Banda announced on November 5 that her government had imposed a moratorium on the laws until the 193-member parliament could decide on the issue. Malawi's anti-gay laws became highly evident to the world when two men were arrested in 2009 after becoming the first gay couple to marry in the former British protectorate. The prosecution drew condemnation from around the world.
Malawi's penal code specifies punishment for various crimes involving homosexuals; however, Justice Minister and Attorney General Ralph Kasambara declared, "There is a moratorium on all such laws, meaning that police will not arrest or prosecute anyone based on these laws." He further stated that the laws that criminalize homosexuality in the country will not be enforced until parliament makes a decision. Amnesty International welcomed the move as "a historic step forward." Amnesty's Southern Africa Director Noel Kututwa stated "Amnesty International welcomes Minister Kasambara's statement and hopes it serves as the first step toward ending discrimination and persecution based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in Malawi," but local activists urged caution. Chrispine Sibande, a health rights lawyer, declared that the moratorium was "very shaky," as it was not supported by a legal order, and called the government move "political goodwill" that could change at any time. Rather than suspending the laws, gay rights campaigners in Malawi want the government to repeal the laws, calling them archaic; they want Malawi to align with international human rights standards.
President Banda took office in April of 2012, following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika. After initially stating that her government would decriminalize homosexuality, she later said that parliament was better positioned to solve the controversial issue. Banda recently received a report recommending the decriminalization of same-sex marriages as a way of fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS.