James’ ‘hands’ in the Police Complaints Commission

James’ ‘hands’ in the Police Complaints Commission

When overzealous police officers cripple you while in custody, an equally crippled Independent Complaints Commission (ICC) is your only chance to get justice from a State security agency notorious for cover-ups and protecting its own.

That is the cruel fate hounding the innocent soul of James Mbendera whose decapitation of his body parts at the brutal hands of what is supposed to be the reformed Malawi Police Service (MPS) has now cost him another hand.

The outcome of police brutality: James has had both arms amputated

It’s now rare to see James, 13, smile.

The minor’s life has forever changed following the amputation of both his hands because of alleged police brutality.

James’ predicament emanates from an arrest by Mulanje Police who allegedly tied his hands with elastic rubber bands.

The Standard Four pupil was arrested on January 30 this year and detained at Misanjo Police Unit in the District for four days, for allegedly stealing K13 000.

The amputation of his hands happened in two phases beginning with his right hand and three fingers in February when Nation on Sunday first reported the story.

Medics at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital last month amputated his remaining hand.

Now, the dreams of this potential future lawyer are stuck in a dark pipeline that is squeezing what remained of his future out of the boy.

James’ aunt, Jessie, told Nation on Sunday last week that the family is living a nightmare.

“It is a heart-breaking situation for the family. There is no amount of justice that can heal the pain,” she said.

Jessie said James’ education has been disrupted, further worrying that the child will endure the trauma for the rest of his life.

Two police officers were arrested and are expected to appear in court once James heals as he is the sole witness.

But as James navigates his new reality with his family seeking further interventions through the ICC, funding constraints are a potential barrier to the case’s investigations.

His case is one of many that have stagnated because of funding constraints, according to an ICC report submitted to the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Security on May 9 this year.

Other key investigations that attracted the public’s interest include the death of a suspect in custody at Karonga Police Station on December 2 2023, the alleged defilement of a 14-year-old girl at Kachulu Police Unit in Zomba in August 2023, the shooting and wounding of a teeager by an officer on August 20 2023 at a drinking joint in Kasungu.

The police shooting of a man at Gateway Mall in Lilongwe during a misunderstanding between the victim and others on August 22 2023.

While the ICC is expected to send its legal opinion on James’ case to the office of the Director Public Prosecutions (DPP) o, a postmortem conducted on the Karonga suspect revealed that he died of natural causes while the Zomba incident has been recommended for prosecution.

For the Kasungu incident, investigations were complete and the case is ready for prosecution and trial is underway for the Gateway Mall fracas.

The funding constraints have since caused a backlog.

According to the ICC report, out of 258 complaints received, only 44 were completed in the previous fiscal year while 166 are still under investigations.

The report indicates that 38 complaints are pending investigations, but 10 were withdrawn.

On the nature of complaints, 10 have to do with the death of suspects in police custody, 14 are a result of death due to police action, 37 pertain to physical assault, 50 are from unlawful arrests and 13 are of abuse of office while another 13 have to do with public officers failing to act on complaints.

One complaint concerns a public officer facilitating a suspect to escape, 76 are misconduct by police officers while on duty while three each are for rape and indecent assault.

The report further indicates that 21 complaints are of theft, 10 of bribery and two of sexual harassment.

Part of the report reads: “There is a need for urgent funding, especially for cases requiring immediate action and there is an urgent need to increase resources to support countrywide investigations and legal service activities.”

In an e-mail response on Friday, ICC spokesperson Happy Njalam’mano said amid inadequate funding, the situation becomes tricky.

He said with more people becoming aware of the ICC’s existence, the number of complaints is increasing at an alarming rate.

Njalam’mano said: “Inevitably, with the limited funding, we have to prioritise certain cases. We have an internal criterion for prioritising cases as we continue to enhance our constitutional capacity.

“We have and will continue to engage our partners for more support.”

He said the ICC has had to scale down on its annual investigation targets to correspond with their allocation in the current fiscal year.

In the 2024/25 National Budget, government allocated K741 151 199 of the ICC’s other recurrent transactions (ORT).

Initially, the ORT was put at K541 151 199, but the ICC engaged Treasury and Parliament to consider increasing the allocation.

According to Njalam’mano, this was to facilitate the procurement of numerous capital items as a new institution.

Fortunately, the budget was revised upwards by K200 million.

“Our initial ORT budget estimates were at K900 million, so we still have a deficit of about K150 million. We hope that our budget will be revised upwards during the mid-term review.

“That way, we can manage to fund more investigations because we are receiving more and more complaints,” he said.

In their reaction to the ICC’s funding struggles, civil society leaders have asked government to ensure special funding towards the institution, especially for investigations that require immediate attention.

Human Rights Defenders Coalition national chairperson Gift Trapence in an interview on Wednesday said the underfunding towards the ICC is disturbing.

He said the situation means poor Malawians are being denied fair access to justice.

He said: “We are calling upon the government to fund the ICC. Otherwise, the institution is just a white elephant doing nothing to offer justice services to poor Malawians.”

Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives executive director Sylvester Namiwa in a separate interview said authorities have no choice, but to ensure the ICC is adequately funded.

“It should be put in clear terms that government should strive at all times to be seen and act as a protector of human rights,” he said.

As the ICC struggles to source funds for investigations, James’ life slowly deteriorates while other justice seekers remain frustrated.

The post James’ ‘hands’ in the Police Complaints Commission first appeared on Nation Online.

The post James’ ‘hands’ in the Police Complaints Commission appeared first on Nation Online.