On Tuesday, UPND President Hakainde Hichilema addressed an audience at the world-renowned think tank Chatham House in London.
During his speech and the questions that followed he spoke passionately about the importance of strengthening the rule of law, bringing an end to political violence and restoring human rights to Zambia.
“These issues are not partisan, not about PF, UPND or any other party, but about the national interest and the welfare of Zambian citizens”, Mr. Hichilema stated.
Mr. Hichilema began his speech by thanking Chatham House for the invitation to speak. He stressed the importance of sharing different opinions at such well-respected platforms both domestically and internationally, “Even when we don’t agree, it is essential that we dialogue”.
First and foremost Mr. Hichilema addressed the issue of human rights, from the freedom of people to meet to the freedom of media. “Zambia has historically been host to refugees fleeing violence and intimidation elsewhere, but today Zambia is an exporter of refugees. We must remedy this by releasing all political prisoners and restoring human rights for our people.”
Mr. Hichilema also covered such basic rights as the right to work and earn income, rejecting discrimination based on political affiliation, ethnicity, and religion or any other such measure. He also covered recent abuse of the Public Order Act, which he said must be reformed to remove the opening for manipulation that is used to deny opposition, civil society and citizens in general their freedom of movement. “The use of security apparatus to abuse citizens and deny them their rights and freedoms must be stopped”.
“Those media institutions that are considered independent have been constrained and in the worse cases shut down”, said Mr. Hichilema in reference to the closure of the Post Newspaper and threats against stations such as Muvi, Prime and Komboni radio.
Secondly, Mr. Hichilema addressed the breakdown of the rule of law. “In some cases we have direct violation of the constitution by government”, he stated citing Article 104 that requires the President to stand aside following the submission of an electoral petition. “We also see the state disobeying or disregarding court orders and the abuse of the office of the Director of Public Prosecution.”
Mr. Hichilema said the way forward must be the restoration of the rule of law and public order, as well as reform of the judiciary and to address lacunas in the current constitution that undermine democracy and democratic efforts.
“After the flawed 2016 elections we opted to go the democratic route and file a petition, rejecting violence. For this approach to work, however, petitions need to be heard and the rule of law must be respected. The presidential petition must be heard”.
Concerning the criminal justice system Mr. Hichilema called for an end to detention without charge, as well as a return to the presumption of innocence until proving guilty. “Party cadres using police and issuing instructions to the police Inspector General cannot be good for any democracy or for any citizen of that democracy”.
Regarding the electoral process Mr. Hichilema stressed that the “lack of transparency in the electoral process has created opportunities for rigging and has therefore been a source of tension and dispute”. Reform of the ECZ is a must, said the UPND leader, stating “Why would anyone resist a truly independent ECZ, unless someone feels they are benefitting from the current system that lacks transparency?”
Finally, Mr. Hichilema said that the levels of corruption are reaching cancerous standards, meaning that a small group are benefitting at the expense of the majority. “State institutions such as ZRA and ACC are being abused. We must have zero tolerance for corruption and end the abuse of state institutions, as well as at the same time ensuring the professionalization of the civil service.”
In summing up Mr. Hichilema stressed that “You cannot redistribute poverty”. “In order to deliver social and economic progress and create the jobs and opportunities Zambians so desperately need and deserve, these issues pertaining to human rights, rule of law and governance must be urgently and comprehensively addressed”, he concluded.