25 July 2001

MALAWI: Panel swamped by Banda-era compensation claims

A tribunal created to hear and compensate those whose rights were violated by the Kamuzu Banda regime said on Wednesday that it had been overwhelmed by claims and had been forced to set a cut-off date, according to an AFP report. Tribunal administrator Harold Khombe told AFP his panel had given those seeking compensation until 21 December to lodge their claims.

"We have received 15,500 claims. We want to stop entertaining claims, because if we don't, we may never be able to compensate everyone for a long time. We needed a cut-off point," Khombe was quoted saying. Only 4,566 victims had been fully compensated, he added, mainly for forced exile and detention without trial - common government tactics during Banda's three decades of rule. Banda ruled Malawi until 1994, when current president, Bakili Muluzi, won the country's first multi-party elections.

Hundreds Jehova's Witness believers were forced into exile by Banda for refusing to buy membership cards of his Malawi Congress Party, the report said. It added that the compensations tribunal was created in 1994 and given a 10-year mandate to hear individual cases of human rights abuses. Khombe was quoted saying that the tribunal did not have enough money to compensate all claimants and that it would have to stop hearing cases this year if it hoped to "compensate all claimants".

Malawian human rights activists were pressing the government to create a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission to probe atrocities under Banda's regime, saying that the compensation tribunal had no mandate to compile a comprehensive report of rights abuses committed under Banda's rule, the report said. (IRIN)

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