Support Decriminalization of Same-Sex Relations in Malawi

Target: Malawian government officials

Goal: Commend Malawian decision to impose a moratorium on arrests of consenting same-sex couples

The government in Malawi has recently announced a moratorium on arrests relating to consensual same-sex conduct, standing in stark contrast to many other African nations. Discriminatory anti-gay laws have plagued Malawi since British colonization and have threatened the LGBT community with lengthy prison sentences. The Malawian government’s decision is a victory for international human rights and will serve as an important example to the world that imprisoning individuals on the basis of consensual same-sex conduct is wrong. Commend the Malawian government on this courageous action.

Colonial-era legal decrees condemning sodomy were imposed in over 40 British holdings, declaring “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” punishable under law. Commonly understood as anal sex, the enforcement of these laws primarily targeted same-sex couples rather than heterosexual couples. Today, nations struggling to throw off the shackles of their colonial past have inherited this same law with little-to-no variation. Despite clear evidence that anti-gay laws have less to do with African tradition and more to do with Western domination, former Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika signed a bill in early 2011 that criminalized consensual same-sex intimacy between women with up to five years in prison, mirroring the 14-year imprisonment sentence same-sex male couples can face.

Current president Joyce Banda assumed power promising to decriminalize same-sex relations and has encouraged members of parliament to take the question to their constituencies to ensure that the Malawian nation is ready for this important change. Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara issued the moratorium based on worries that the current anti-gay laws may conflict with Malawian constitutional provisions on equality and human dignity. Fear of government embarrassment if said laws were deemed unconstitutional and a growing understanding that ongoing arrests violate international human rights standards and discriminate against LGBT individuals make this moratorium a timely and significant achievement. In a global community where at least 76 countries still criminalize consensual same-sex intimacy—38 of those countries found within Africa—Malawi’s decision is an important international signal.

Congratulate the Malawian government for its important and courageous decision.


Dear Government Officials of Malawi,

The recent moratorium placed on arrests of same-sex couples for consenting sexual intimacy is an important and timely achievement for international human rights standards. While over 76 countries continue to criminalize same-sex behavior—38 of them African—Malawi’s decision stands as a powerful international example.

Evidence points to the fact that anti-gay laws are less a result of African tradition and more a direct effect of historical Western domination. Men may be punished with 14 years in prison; women can face up to five. And the effects of these laws, enforced or not, are devastating for the LGBT community, resulting in extreme discrimination.

President Joyce Banda and Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara’s efforts to uphold Malawi’s constitutional provisions for equality and human dignity are admirable. The importance of Malawi’s decision on the national, continental, and international scale should not be understated.

Thank you for your historic work on this important issue.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: chris 4:99 via Flickr

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