On March 14th 2013, Zambia will undergo the second phase of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) review of its fulfillment of international human rights obligations and commitments.
The main review was conducted in October 2012. The March 2013 session will be to look at the outcome.
But given the deteriorating Human Rights environment in Zambia, some NGO have come together to lobby government to fulfill its obligations.
‘The political environment has aggravated the human rights situation in Zambia with increasing political arrests and threats both to political establishments and non-governmental organizations’ said the NGO in their statement on Sunday.
The NGO further said; ‘this certainly does not augur well for a democracy like Zambia. Political violence has also been experienced mainly because of the manner in which the Public Order Act has been administered by the police. The freedoms of Assembly have been extremely restricted particularly for political players thereby stifling open competition.
The NGO that have come together are Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD), Transparency International Zambia (TIZ), Legal Resource Foundation (LRF), Anti-Voter Apathy (AVAP), CUZ, Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP) and Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD.
The NGOs have come up with a position on the status of human rights in Zambia and will lobby both the Zambian government and the states to ask Zambia to accept some key recommendations that impact on the human rights performance of the country.
The NGOS contend that, today Zambia is among the countries that still face numerous challenges in human rights. These include torture, official impunity, life-threatening prison conditions, arbitrary arrests and prolonged pre-trial detention, long trial delays, restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and association, violence and discrimination against women, child abuse, trafficking in persons, discrimination based on sexual orientation and against persons with disabilities, restrictions on labor rights, forced labor and child labor.
See the full statement by the NGO below:
POSITION OF THE UPR CSO ALLIANCE
Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD), Transparency International Zambia (TIZ), Legal Resource Foundation (LRF), Anti-Voter Apathy (AVAP), CUZ, Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP) and Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD)
The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) is the world’s principal multilateral organ that promotes and protects human rights. The HRC was created in April 2006, by General Assembly resolution 60/251, to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights, (UNCHR). The HRC has established what is termed as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that determines that all UN member-states will periodically undergo a review process (cycles of 4 years – 48 countries per year). The objective of the review is to determine the fulfillment by States of their international human rights obligations and commitments. It is considered the most innovative mechanism of the HRC given the universality of coverage and the intention to combat selectivity and double standards in responding to various human rights violations that existed in the former Commission on Human Rights.
In April and May 2008, the first 32 countries which included Zambia were reviewed and all the final reports were adopted in the 8th session of the HRC, in June 2008. Until the end of 2011, all the UN member States were reviewed in the first cycle of the UPR. The UPR is designed to prompt, support, and expand the promotion and protection of human rights on the ground. To achieve this, the UPR involves assessing States’ human rights records and at the end of the review process, other States who are members of the Human Rights Council and part of the review process can ask questions to the State under review (e.g. Zambia) on what it’s doing in order to fulfill its human rights obligations signed under various UN treaties.
The States are also at liberty to make recommendations to the State under review and these recommendations are supposed to relate to how the State under review can improve its human rights at the national level. The reviews are conducted by the UPR Working Group which consists of the 47 members of the Council; however any UN Member State can take part in the discussions/dialogue with the reviewed States. Each State review is assisted by groups of three States, known as “troikas”, who serve as rapporteurs. The selection of the troikas for each State review is done through a drawing of lots prior for each Working Group session. Burkina Faso, Thailand and the United States of America formed the troika that reviewed Zambia in the first cycle.
On 30thOctober 2012, Zambia underwent its second review on the UPR under the Human Rights Council. A number of recommendations which were made to Zambia were accepted by the state; one was rejected and close to 54 recommendations were left pending for further consultation by the Zambian government. On March 14th 2013, Zambia will go through the outcome review session to discuss the recommendations and the outcomes. It’s in view of this that the UPR Alliance of NGOs in Zambia composed Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD), Transparency International Zambia (TIZ), Legal Resource Foundation (LRF), Anti-Voter Apathy (AVAP), CUZ, Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP) and Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) have come up with a position on the status of human rights in Zambia and will lobby both the Zambian government and the states to ask Zambia to accept some of these key recommendations that impact on the human rights performance of the country.
Today Zambia is among the countries that still face numerous challenges in human rights. These include torture, official impunity, life-threatening prison conditions, arbitrary arrests and prolonged pre-trial detention, long trial delays, restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and association, violence and discrimination against women, child abuse, trafficking in persons, discrimination based on sexual orientation and against persons with disabilities, restrictions on labor rights, forced labor and child labor. All these violations have been taking place despite the country being a signatory to a number of international human rights instruments which seek to ensure that human rights as reflected under the Universal Declaration for Human Rights are fully realized and guaranteed for every human being. These conventions include Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) among others. Being a signatory to the following international conventions, the State of Zambia has assumed obligations to promote respect and fulfill the human rights related to Civil and political rights.
Furthermore, the political environment has aggravated the human rights situation in Zambia with increasing political arrests and threats both to political establishments and non-governmental organizations. This certainly does not augur well for a democracy like Zambia. Political violence has also been experienced mainly because of the manner in which the Public Order Act has been administered by the police. The freedoms of Assembly have been extremely restricted particularly for political players thereby stifling open competition. With Zambia coming up for review on 14th March 2013, as an alliance on the UPR we have the following issues that Zambia needs to consider seriously:
- 1. Prison Conditions
The continued poor prison conditions in all the prisons of Zambia are certainly an issue of concern that needs quick attention by the government. The country’s prisons are dilapidated and highly congested which has made sickness and contagious diseases very rife endangering the lives of the inmates.
We therefore feel that government should clearly give a more definitive plan of how they will deal with the concerns in the prisons and creating more infrastructures to increase the number of prisons in the country.
The government should also ensure that prison cells have good sanitation, adequate medical facilities, enough food supplies, clean portable water. This would prevent serious outbreaks of dysentery, cholera, and tuberculosis that have been rife in prisons.
- 2. Death Penalty
For a long time, there have been calls by human rights organizations locally and internationally that Zambia should abolish the death penalty and with the new constitution being drafted this was seen as an opportune time to remove the death penalty from the laws of Zambia. The Zambian Constitution allows the death penalty in Part III on the Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedom of the Individual. The Zambian Penal Code, section 43, foresees that the death penalty be enforced in cases regarding high treason, murder and armed robbery. However, Zambia’s continued use of the death penalty as punishment for offenders found guilty when charged for treason, murder or armed robbery is a clear violation of human rights and failure for the State to uphold its promise to keep its commitment towards human rights treaties it has signed.
Unfortunately during the countrywide conventions that have been held on the constitution, the death penalty has been retained in most of the conventions and through that avenue, the likelihood of abolishing is non-existent. Therefore it is our view that government should consider taking a leading role on the issue of the death penalty and look at it from a human rights perspective and possibly consider options that can create a compromise between those who want it abolished and those who want it to be retained by either reducing the crimes that can warrant it or introducing an official moratorium. Government has a responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens and therefore needs to take decisions that sometimes may not be popular from the public point of view but help to protect every citizen from abuse. We therefore urge government to consider these options on the death penalty as the constitution is being drafted.
- 3. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Zambian constitution prohibits torture and other degrading treatment however the police has continued to use excessive force including torture when interrogating, and detaining suspects. Lately we have seen aggression when the police are arresting suspects. For instance during the arrests of the suspects in the Livingstone murder of Harrison Chanda, the police used force against the suspects who had not resisted arrest at any one point. This is totally against human rights and we urge government to initiate programmes that will ensure that the police are oriented on these human rights so that they treat every individual with the dignity they deserve
Government should also introduce a clear cut policy on prevention of torture and provide for compensation to victims of torture. Officers who torture, beat, or otherwise abuse suspects generally should be disciplined or arrested for such acts. More stern measures need to be taken to ensure that torture cases are promptly and decisively dealt with. There is also need to increase channels through which torture cases can be reported without the bureaucracy and threats to the victims. Furthermore government should deal with these cases in a more expedient manner so that the torture victims are not traumatized. There should also be measures to rehabilitate the torture victims.
- 4. Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
The Zambian constitution and law provide that authorities must obtain a warrant before arresting a person for some offenses; other offenses have no such requirement. Furthermore, the law provides for prompt judicial determination of the legality of charges against a detainee; however, authorities often do not inform detainees promptly of charges against them. Arbitrary arrest and detention remained problems. Approximately one-third of persons incarcerated in remand prisons and other prisons have not been convicted of a crime or received a trial date.
There is need for government to ensure that the police operates in a professional manner and does not arrest citizens in an arbitrarily manner which will impact on the human rights of the individuals arrested negatively.
- 5. Freedom of Expression
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the government has been very slow in ensuring that the media reforms that were initiated years ago are fully completed. These media reforms are very critical because they will enable the country’s media laws to be aligned with the current democratic demands.
As a matter of urgency and importance, Government should consider enacting the Freedom of Information bill into law which was withdrawn from parliament. The Zambian Government should also consider revising the Official Secrecy Act to be in line with the Access to information laws.
- 6. Freedom of Assembly
The Zambian constitution clearly provides for freedom of assembly, however, the police has increasingly violated this fundamental freedom time and again. A number of times opposition political parties have been denied the right to assemble under the guise that the police foresee violence, however this is something that cannot be substantiated as it is highly presumptuous that indeed if a procession or meeting is allowed there would be violence. Furthermore the police have failed to protect some groups from intruders during processions and this has been a great recipe for violent clashes especially among political groupings. The police have on many recent occasions used the law’s broad mandate to stifle and arbitrarily deny opposition political parties an opportunity to assemble peacefully. The effect of mismanagement of the Public Order Act became highly pronounced during campaigns in the Livingstone by-election where violence erupted among cadres of opposing political parties. Furthermore, in the recent past we also witnessed police interruption of the meeting organized by Action Aid International Zambia in Mazabuka with stakeholders. We believe different individuals and groupings must be allowed to operate in an enabling environment to advance peace, justice and issues of development in our country. All citizens must enjoy rights and freedoms not only those that belong to the ruling class.
We therefore call upon government to consider reforming the public order act and conform it to democratic values so that it is not applied in an arbitrary manner or at the discretion of those with the whims of powers. Furthermore, the police need to be protected from political interference in the course of undertaking their duties. The police need to also be oriented on the professional ways of handling the public order act and eliminate any forms of biases that have a great effect on the people’s freedoms to assemble freely regardless of affiliation.
- 7. Inviting Special Rappotuers
We also urge government to consider inviting special rapporteurs in specific human rights areas such as torture, judiciary and prisons. We believe this will demonstrate political will on the part of government to overcome some of these human rights challenges that the country is facing.
These issues are important to the advancement of human rights in Zambia. The government needs to put emphasis and great importance to various human rights and categorically deal with the highlighted challenges by way of reform or policy initiation. Accepting some of the recommendations made to government such as the abolishing of the death penalty will also be a landmark achievement by the government in the protection of human rights. As CSOs, we are therefore ready to continue engaging government in dealing with these challenges. We are fully aware of the challenges that the government faces in fulfilling these human rights obligations and our role would be to compliment any positive efforts that are being fostered by government in that perspective.