The Malawian government has announced that charges have been dropped against two men arrested on December 7 for alleged "homosexual acts", in keeping with the southeast African country's 2012 moratorium on penalties for same-sex sexual activities.
Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu released a statement on December 18 confirming that charges against 19-year-old Cuthbert Kulemera and 33-year-old Kelvin Gonani had been dropped. Tembenu also committed the government to a review of the country's anti-gay penal code provisions.
"Malawi as a member of the international community is also committed to adhere to universally accepted human rights standards. The government there for [sic] acknowledges the view expressed by international Human Rights bodies that the inclusion of offenses prohibiting homosexuality in our statute books/within our legislation may be at variance with the views held by such bodies," Tembenu said.
"Consequently, the government has committed itself to review the penal laws on homosexuality under the Penal Code, but this has to be done in consultation with the people of Malawi as prescribed by the Constitution.
"This position was clearly stated by government before the United Nations and African Union treaty bodies."
Representatives of the non-government organisation Human Rights Watch said Tembenu’s decision to drop the charges against the two men and to publicly commit to the moratorium demonstrates the government’s commitment to international human rights standards and the rule of law.
“Thousands of LGBT Malawians can now breathe a sigh of relief that Malawi has reaffirmed its leadership in upholding human rights for all,” Human Rights Watch senior LGBT rights researcher Neela Ghoshal said.
“The government should ensure that all law enforcement officers are aware of their obligations to protect and not discriminate against LGBT people and should work with civil society to make sure this message also reaches the general public.”
In a joint statement with Human Rights Watch, the director of Malawi's human rights organisation, Centre for the Development of the People, Gift Trapence, said he was heartened by the decision.
"The next step will be for the government to get rid of discriminatory laws altogether, including those that criminalise consensual sex between adults of the same sex," Trapence said.
"Further, we would want the government of Malawi issue a circular to the police stations so that the moratorium is adhered to by the Malawi Police Service."
The New York Times reports that since 2012, the US government has put more than US$350 million into supporting gay rights groups in sub-Saharan Africa.