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Torture by Police, Forced Disappearance

& Other Ill Treatment

In the early years of the 21st Century, 2000 to 2025                                      

Republic of Malawi

Police brutality and extrajudicial killings are not uncommon in Malawi.

Prison conditions are dire, characterized by overcrowding and extremely poor health conditions; many inmates die from AIDS and other diseases.  [Freedom House Country Report, 2018]

Description: Description: Malawi

CAUTION:  The following links have been culled from the web to illuminate the situation in Malawi.  Some of these links may lead to websites that present allegations that are unsubstantiated or even false.  No attempt has been made to validate their authenticity or to verify their content.



If you are looking for material to use in a term-paper, you are advised to scan the postings on this page and others to see which aspects of Torture by Authorities are of particular interest to you.  You might be interested in exploring the moral justification for inflicting pain or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment in order to obtain critical information that may save countless lives, or to elicit a confession for a criminal act, or to punish someone to teach him a lesson outside of the courtroom.  Perhaps your paper might focus on some of the methods of torture, like fear, extreme temperatures, starvation, thirst, sleep deprivation, suffocation, or immersion in freezing water.  On the other hand, you might choose to write about the people acting in an official capacity who perpetrate such cruelty.  There is a lot to the subject of Torture by Authorities.  Scan other countries as well as this one.  Draw comparisons between activity in adjacent countries and/or regions.  Meanwhile, check out some of the Term-Paper resources that are available on-line.

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2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Malawi

U.S. Dept of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 30 March 2021

[accessed 28 July 2021]


The constitution prohibits the use of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment; however, police sometimes used excessive force and other unlawful practices, including torture, to extract confessions from suspects. The MHRC stated in its annual report that torture was widespread in prisons.


Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding and poor sanitation; inadequate food, potable water, heating, ventilation, lighting, and health care; and torture.


The MHRC and NGOs working in prisons expressed concern regarding the human rights of detained persons. During the year the MHRC released a report that cited overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate food and health care as major problems in prisons and detention centers. It stated torture was widespread and that most prisoners and detainees lived in degrading and inhuman conditions. From January to August, the MHRC received one complaint regarding the rights of prisoners. NGOs attributed the low number of submitted complaints was due to fear of retaliation by authorities.

Freedom House Country Report

2018 Edition

[accessed 13 May 2020]

DOES DUE PROCESS PREVAIL IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL MATTERS? - Arbitrary arrests and detentions are common in Malawi. Defendants are legally entitled to legal representation, but in practice they are frequently forced to represent themselves in court. Although the law requires that suspects be released or charged with a crime within 48 hours of arrest, these rights were often denied. 

IS THERE PROTECTION FROM THE ILLEGITIMATE USE OF PHYSICAL FORCE AND FREEDOM FROM WAR AND INSURGENCIES? - Police brutality and extrajudicial killings are not uncommon in Malawi. In 2017, three women accused of assaulting another woman were allegedly assaulted by police. In recent years, there has been an upsurge in criminal activity by police officers, including armed robberies and break-ins. The police are poorly trained and often ineffective. As a result, vigilantism has increased in recent years. 

Prison conditions are dire, characterized by overcrowding and extremely poor health conditions; many inmates die from AIDS and other diseases.

Policing and Human Rights -- Assessing southern African countries’ compliance with the SARPCCO Code of Conduct for Police Officials

Edited by Amanda Dissel & Cheryl Frank, African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum APCOF, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-920489-81-6

[accessed 25 March 2014]


No police official shall, under any circumstances, inflict, instigate, or tolerate any act of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of any person.

Torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is prohibited in terms of the Constitution, and the Police Act requires the police to protect life and fundamental freedoms.  Despite these provisions, there are credible and persistent reports of police torture in Malawi, particularly in custodial settings.

In 2006, the MHRC released a report indicating that the police frequently use torture and ill-treatment in the course of investigations, and against suspects in police custody.  During 2011, the police were reported to have used excessive force, and engaged in sexual abuse, against detainees.

The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code, which has been interpreted by the courts to permit the admissibility of confessions even if they are not freely and voluntarily made, contradicts the constitutional guarantee that every person has the right not to be compelled to make a confession or admission. This does not act as a deterrent to the use of torture or other ill-treatment to extract confessions, and is contrary to Malawi’s obligations under international human rights law.

The government has claimed that there have been ‘no official records of complaints of torture by law enforcement officials’, although it was aware that complaints might have been lodged with the Malawi Human Rights Commission.  The MHRC and the United States Department have reported incidents of torture, ill treatment, the arbitrary and prolonged detention of suspects, and increasing reports of deaths in police custody.  The UN Human Rights Council has expressed its concern about the use of torture and excessive force by the police, both during arrest and in custodial settings. Non-governmental organisations have also expressed concern at the impunity enjoyed by police officers accused of acts of torture.  According to the MHRC, while there have been some investigations into police brutality, few of the officers implicated have ever been investigated and convicted of criminal offences.

Malawian Policing Overview In:  Overview Of Plural Policing Oversight In Select Southern African Development (SADC) Countries

Julie Berg, Institute of Criminology, University of Cape Town, December 2005

[accessed 28 Jan 2014]

Click [here] to access the article.  Its URL is not displayed because of its length

[accessed 31 July 2017]

There are laws in Malawi – besides the police act – which are also seen as problematic.  For instance, the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code stipulates that any confession made by a suspect in custody is admissible in court provided it is “materially true” – at the time of writing, it was not clear whether this had been amended.   However, despite this, many courts will reject a confession that has been proved to have been obtained under duress, yet; on the other hand, many magistrates’ courts reportedly disregard torture victim’s allegations.   There have also been accusations of the police holding detainees for much longer than the 48 hour limit – at times for more than two weeks without being charged.


Human Rights Reports » 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

U.S. Dept of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 8, 2006

[accessed 5 February 2013]

[accessed 4 July 2019]

TORTURE AND OTHER CRUEL, INHUMAN, OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT – The law prohibits such practices; however, there were instances of police beating and abusing detainees, and using excessive force in handling criminal suspects. On June 7, the mother of a 12‑year‑old boy who died in police custody that month (see section 1.a.) alleged that police officers brutally beat her and two of her children during interrogation. She also claimed that police removed her clothing prior to beating her and refused to allow her to go to the hospital for treatment after the assault.

On June 10, two policemen in Karonga were sentenced to one‑year imprisonment with hard labor for assaulting and wounding two detainees. The inspector general of the police ordered the police officers' arrests after discovering an injured inmate during a police station inspection. Police violently dispersed demonstrations during the year, which resulted in numerous injuries and at least one death (see section 2.b.).

While higher‑ranking officials demonstrated familiarity with standards for the humane treatment of prisoners and publicly condemned prisoner mistreatment, their subordinates continued to employ unacceptable techniques. Police sometimes mistreated suspects due to a mistaken belief that the law required them to present a case (not just charges) to the court within 48 hours of arrest, and police sometimes resorted to beatings to obtain information within the time limit. Lack of financial resources for appropriate equipment, facilities, and training contributed to mistreatment. The MHRC called for the introduction of a compensation fund to assist victims of police abuse and relatives of persons who died in police custody; however, no such fund had been established by year's end.

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Cite this webpage as: Patt, Prof. Martin, "Torture by Police, Forced Disappearance & Other Ill Treatment in the early years of the 21st Century- Malawi",, [accessed <date>]