Zambia’s human rights standing yesterday came into serious scrutiny and ultimately became questionable after several countries expressed concern at the pace at which the country is moving in ensuring that all its citizens enjoy the rights as provided for under the United Nations Charter as well as other international human rights instruments.
The United States of America and the United Kingdom in particular expressed serious concern at the continued abuse of the Public Order Act by the Zambian authorities through the police. The two countries and others condemned Zambia’s harassment of opposition leaders and denying the opposition the right to hold rallies.
The USA and UK are also concerned with the abuse of freedoms of assembly and association the people of Western province through continued police refusal to allow people in the area to hold public meetings and processions.
The two countries expressed their concerns yesterday (October 30) in Geneva- Switzerland, during the United Nations Human rights Council’s second cycle Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review.
But Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Uganda, Ethiopia, Cuba and Sudan praised Zambia saying it is a beacon of democracy on the African continent.
Zambia underwent a three hours review during the Human rights Council’s second cycle Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review.
The Zambian delegation led by Zambia’s Solicitor-General Musa Mwenye started by painting a picture of what could have been positive developments in Zambia’s human rights record in the last one year.
Mwenye pointed to the enactment of the Anti-Gender Based Violence Act of 2011, the ratifying of the convention on persons with disabilities, reduced congestions in prisons through presidential pardons, the newly introduced parole system, and the national policy to combat human trafficking as some of the positives the country has made in improving the human rights situation.
However, during the interactive session, Zambia’s continued harassment of opposition political leaders using the police on flimsy charges was also condemned.
New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Italy, Benin, Sri Lanka and others urged the Zambia government to use the on-going constitution making process to enact a constitution which reflects the will of the people of Zambia.
Most countries that questioned Zambia expressed hope that the new constitution will be approved through a referendum.
France, Ireland and Canada urged the Zambia government to improve on media freedom and ensure that the long awaited access to information law is enacted.
The country was also urged to consider abolishing laws which criminalise same sex activities among consenting adults.
Zambia failed to make reasonable responses and assurances when asked what the country would to improve the situation on the rights of women, children, refugees and minority groups.
Several African countries led by Togo, Burundi, Namibia, Rwanda and other western countries urged the Zambia government abolish the death penalty to which Mr. Mwenye said could only be done through a referendum as it was in the bill of rights and that the bill of rights can only be amended through a referendum.
Most countries praised the Zambian people in general for the smooth transition of power after the elections last year.