The Human Rights Commission of Zambia (HRC) has maintained that there is no law that requires members of the public to get police permits to hold meetings.
HRC last week issued a statement demanding that police should explain why they recorded a warn and caution statement from William Banda whom they found in a meeting.
The statement from HRC was condemned by Libala Ward 7 Patriotic Front (PF) Councilor, Emmanuel Chanda who said the police were merely doing their job and questioned where HRC were when Banda was terrorizing people in the MMD government.
But on December 27, 2011, the HRC said Zambia rejected sections of the Public Order Act which required them to get Police permits before they could hold a meeting
HRC spokesperson Samuel Kasankha told the Watchdog by email that even under the alleged atrocities by William Banda under the MMD, the HRC was not silent as suggested by the Emmanuel Chanda.
HRC is an independent Constitutional body established under Article 125 of the Constitution of Zambia. Its autonomy is guaranteed by Article 125(2) of the Constitution and Section 3 of the Human Rights Commission Act No. 39 of 1996. The Commission has a broad mandate to promote and protect human rights outlined in its constitutive Act.
Below is the statement as sent to the Watchdog:
27 December 2011
CONDEMNATION OF HRC STATEMENT ON WILLIAM BANDA’S WARN AND CAUTION STATEMENT BY PF COUNCILLOR.
Following a statement by Libala Ward 7 Patriotic Front (PF) Councilor, Mr Emmanuel Chanda, which was widely covered by the press on Saturday December 24, in which he said among other things that (i) our statement over the warn and caution statement police had recorded from Lusaka Province MMD chairman William Banda was disappointing and unfortunate because there was nothing wrong with Police questioning Banda over the ‘unlawful assembly’ he held with about 20 members at an eating place without a Police permit; (ii) that the Police were merely doing their job; and (iii) that where were the Human Rights Commission when Banda was unleashing violence on innocent people in Chongwe before the September 20 elections (suggesting the Commission was silent on the matter) …
We wish to clarify and comment as follows:
On (i) we are unsure what is disappointing and unfortunate about our statement. Our statement was very clear and was not particularly concerned with Mr. Banda as an individual but with the statement by Police that they were recording a warn and caution statement from people that had attended a meeting of which Police were not notified and which action the Police stated constituted an unlawful assembly. We merely urged Police, in public interest and so that there are no confusions about the law, to be specific and clarify on the charge because to the best of our knowledge, the people of Zambia rejected sections of the Public Order Act which required them to get Police permits before they could hold a meeting. We are aware that as at now, one only needs to notify Police if they feel their meeting requires Police presence for maintenance of order, more specifically large outdoor gatherings that might degenerate into excitement and cause chaos for lack of control by the organizers. Mr Chanda may wish to advise us what is disappointment and unfortunate about such a suggestion by us.
On (ii), the assertion that Police were merely doing their job, we wish to state that even when Police shoot unarmed people, or effect illegal arrests, or beat up suspects etc., they are still doing their job but they may be doing it wrongly and unprofessionally, so we have the responsibility of offering guidance on any actions, including Police actions, that may in the process violate people’s rights. In this particular case, we wish to ensure that the right to freedom of assembly, as enshrined in our Constitution, is upheld. People protested loudly when Police interfered with people’s right to assemble in Mongu in January and it is in the same spirit that we are cautioning Police to be clear on what constitutes ‘unlawful assembly.
On (iii), notwithstanding the fact that the case of William Banda’s alleged violence in Chongwe, which Mr Chanda referred to in his statement is before the courts of law and therefore commenting on it carelessly could be subjudice, we wish to advise Mr Chanda that the Human Rights Commission was not absent from or silent on matter. Mr Chanda may wish to know that as soon as The Post newspapers carried that story, our Commission sent its own investigators to Chongwe, whose report clearly implicated Mr William Banda in the violence and our findings were widely covered by the press. Released at a time when the MMD were still in power and Mr Banda apparently untouchable, our report further called for the prosecution of Mr Banda and it was arguably on the strength of this call that he was arrested the very next day after the media published our findings and recommendations. So we were neither absent nor silent on the Chongwe violence but took a lead role in ensuring that those who violated people’s rights were brought to book.
Every democratic nation in the world is expected to establish a national human rights institution, which Zambia has done through the establishment of our Commission. Our mandate is to promote and protect human rights by building a sustainable culture of respect for human rights by all. When we comment on issues that in our view might threaten the enjoyment of certain rights, it is because we feel there is need for guidance to the public and those that are in authority. We wish to reiterate, for public interest, that our Commission is non partisan and will not take sides with any player in any conflict. We will strive to uphold the enjoyment of rights by all. We must however [and therefore] be allowed to operate independently, without undue interference and/or influence from anybody including politicians, civil society etc, as this is a provision and requirement of the Paris Principles, which agreement guides the establishment and operations of human rights commissions the world over.
We are nevertheless very comfortable with all constructive criticism leveled at us as this will help build us.