MALAWI MAGISTRATES, PROSECUTORS AND COURT CLERKS TRAINED IN SIGN LANGUAGE
With financial support from Disability Rights Fund (DRF), Disabled Women in Africa in coalition with Passion for Women and Children and Rights Advice Centre have engaged Malawi National Association of the Deaf (MANAD) to deliver sign language training to Judicial targeting 15 magistrates, prosecutors and court clerks in Lilongwe where a DRF funded project on ending Exploitation, Violence and Abuse (EVA) amongst women and girls with disabilities is being implemented.
The project which aims to ensure relevant mechanisms are put in place to provide protection and response to EVA faced by Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) has been on-going since 2014 and along the way, many lessons have been learnt. This training is a response to the gap sighted during the implementation of the project in the last 2 years.
PWDs have faced numerous challenges in accessing justice in formal courts and one of the challenges has been communication especially for the deaf community which has eventually resulted in mass withdrawal of cases. This infringes on a bundle of rights for PWDs, which includes freedom from EVA and access to justice but also consequently violation of these rights contradicts with achieving the SDG 16 on Peace and Justice.
It is therefore believed that the Sign Language training is a step towards facilitating Access to Justice when PWDs have faced EVA in their lives and are seeking justice in the formal courts because the key personnel in the court will be able to communicate effectively with the deaf persons from the skills gained in the Sign Language training.
The importance of the training has been echoed by AURTHUR MTALIMANJA (First Grade Magistrate Lilongwe Court) who said This was an important training which is rarely delivered to service providers and particularly to the judicial, “none in our sector has ever been trained in sign language, we are like pioneers, am so happy that they considered to train us as magistrates and our court clerks, this will bridge the communication gap with the deaf community as they Access Justice and combat EVA, we appeal to DIWA and its funders to extend the training to many in the judicial system as the training is vital to the delivery of justice for persons in the deaf community”.
RHODA KUMWENDA (Court clerk, Lilongwe) lamented that the training was very relevant to her field as a court clerk who usually interprets during cases in court, she said, she has been facing communication difficulties when it comes to victim /complainant who is deaf as she could not understand anything, usually, she would end up giving wrong interpretation that leads to unfair Judgment. With this training, she is confident and is looking forward to ably handle such cases.
RODNEY BOTTOMAN (Prosecutor Lingadzi Police, Lilongwe) and ESNART PHIRI (Prosecutor Kanengo Police) Said “most of us prosecutors lack knowledge and skills on sign language and when we come across cases involving deaf persons, we send them back without considering their rights and their feelings. But this training has shaped us and it has bridged the communication gap that was there and we will be helping and interpreting cases of deaf and help them to gain fair justice from now onwards”.
Esnart went on to say “in the past, we received so many cases of defilement and abuse from the deaf but we couldn’t communicate properly as a result we ended up sending them back without hearing them out, sometimes lock them in cells without understanding their cases but with this training I will be able to communicate with the deaf when they come at our station”
At the opening ceremony of the training, Mrs Hajira Ali, DIWA’s Board member but also is a woman with disability, emphasized the importance of the training and what it means to them as women with disability, she said “as women with physical and intellectual disability already, they face challenges and this is worse for PWDs that use sign language as a means of communication to access justice. These challenges begins from the reporting stage at the Victim Support Unit (VSU) up to the court, sometimes many withdrawal after taking a step to VSU as they are taken as embiciles and do not believe what they say because of communication barriers, therefore, she appealed to the trainees to take the training seriously acknowledging the fact that they are busy people but this training is very relevant to their work and should be put in practice to deliver justice to all.”
DIWA’s Country Director Mrs Ruth Mkutumula echoed with the board member that this training meant so much to PWDs and the hope of delivering justice is banked on them as magistrates, prosecutors and court clerks.
It is interesting to note that, despite the busy schedule of the trainees whom amongst them, some had cases to reside over, they did not for a single day stayed away from the training, the participation was 100% demonstrating the value they had placed on the training.
Speaking at the closing ceremony, DIWA’s Founder and overall Chairperson Mrs Rachel Kachaje, a woman with disability expressed her gratitude and joy over the encouraging turn up and participation of the trainees, calling it, history has indeed been made, this is the first training that has ever happened in Malawi for the judicial to be trained in sign language and its fruits are expected to be seen by many as they will practice in delivering justice to PWDs.
This training is happening at a time DIWA is also carrying out an Access Audit within the courts which indeed will open up a dialogue with the Judicial on recommendations of the final report to further address any obstacles found that hinders accessibility to justice by PWDs in the courts.
On a similar note, DIWA has trained other service providers such as Community Child Protection Teams, PWD Networks and Community Policing on case documentation and monitoring to ensure non-withdrawal of cases by PWDs but also has embarked on increased awareness amongst PWDs in the communities to recognize EVA and report.
Through the same funding, the organisation is also working with the Judicial to speed up the trial of murder and non-murder cases regarding the barbaric killing, abductions and exhumation of the body remains of persons with Albinism (PWA) in Malawi.