gay sexLILONGWE (Muchanakhwaye Khwepeya, Malawi NewsNow ) –Malawi government has been saluted by United Nations (UN) and global human rights campaigners Human Rights Watch for reaffirming its moratorium on prosecuting consensual same-sex conduct and swiftly dropping all charges against two Lilongwe based men accused of engaging in homosexuality.

Two weeks ago, police arrested 19-year-old Cuthbert Kulemeka and Kelvin Gonani, 39, on suspicion that they committed an offence under Section 153 of the Penal Code.

But government on Friday ordered the release of the suspects and dropped the charges levelled against them.

Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu explicitly commits the President Peter Mutharika government to the suspension of enforcement of anti-gay penal code provisions, first announced in 2012.

Tembenu also emphasizes the government’s commitment to freedom of association and expression for groups working to advance lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, setting Malawi apart from other countries that have moved to suppress or even criminalize LGBT activism.

In a statement, the UN welcomed government’s decision to drop the charges and further uphold its moratorium not to arrest, detain, charge or prosecute persons engaged in consensual same-sex activity.

However, the body has urged government to put in place strict procedures to ensure that the Malawi Police Service (MPS) does not defy the moratorium.

Malawi suspended enforcement of anti-gay laws, among them Sections 137(a), 153, 154 and 156 of the Penal Code pending a High Court review of their constitutionality.

Justice Minister 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, Human Rights Watch said.

Tembenu’s statement that the government has “consistently invited civil society to carry out intensive sensitization campaigns on gay rights” is also encouraging, the groups said. In affirming activists’ right to speak out and educate the general public on sexual orientation and gender identity, Malawi should serve as an example to countries such as Nigeria, Gambia, Uganda, Russia and Kyrgyzstan, which have taken steps in recent years to shut down dialogue on LGBT rights and to criminalize freedom of association.

However, the recent arrests in Malawi and the subjection of the men to medical tests against their will point to the need for Malawian police and community policing forums to receive appropriate training in human rights, including the rights of sexual and gender minorities.

Malawian authorities should also ensure that any community police members and others who committed unlawful acts against the two men are appropriately prosecuted, HRW said.

The assailants should also be held accountable for violence committed on the grounds of the men’s real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, in accordance with African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Resolution 275 of 2013.

“Thousands of LGBT Malawians can now breathe a sigh of relief that Malawi has reaffirmed its leadership in upholding human rights for all,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“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.”