A young girl is seen through a banner showing same-sex couples as she runs on the stage ahead of a rally in downtown Rome on March 21, 2010. The treatment of gays and illegal immigrants is holding up EU negotiations with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations on revising a development agreement diplomats said on March 18, 2010. AFP PHOTO / STR / AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE

London - The UN rights office urged Malawi on Friday to protect LGBTI people after it quoted a Malawian political party spokesman as saying gay and lesbian people were “worse than dogs” and should be killed.

Kenneth Msonda, a spokesman for the People's Party, one of Malawi's main parties, made the statement earlier this month on his personal Facebook page and repeated it in media interviews, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

It said it was concerned both by Msonda's remarks and by the authorities' “alarming” failure to prosecute him.

“We are concerned that the failure to prosecute this case sends a dangerous message that inciting others to kill gay people is legitimate and will be tolerated by the authorities - in effect encouraging violent threats and attacks on the gay and lesbian community in Malawi,” the rights office said in a statement.

Msonda was charged with inciting others to break the law after two civil society organisations initiated a criminal case against him over his remarks, and was due to appear in court on Friday.

On Thursday the Director of Public Prosecutions informed the Chief Magistrate's Court that it was discontinuing the case.

“It's pretty alarming because essentially people will see that you can incite people to kill someone simply because they belong to a particular group,” UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It's broader really than simply awful discrimination and incitement to hatred of gay and lesbians, it undermines the role of law in general,” he said by phone from Geneva.

The UN rights office said Malawi had a responsibility under international human rights law to protect people from hatred and violence based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

In May the country accepted a United Nations' recommendation that it 'take effective measures' to protect LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people from violence and prosecute perpetrators of attacks.

Anti-gay sentiment and the persecution of homosexuals is rife in much of sub-Saharan Africa, and the rights group ILGA says that in Malawi sex between men is a crime carrying a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.