NGOCC urges govt to expedite Vespers inquiry

Non-governmental Gender Organisations Coordinating Council board publicity secretary Annie Sampa has appealed to the government to expedite the inquiry into the death of UNZA student Vespers Shimunzhila. And Human Rights Commission chairperson Mudford Mwandenga says there is need for effective sanctions against law enforcement officers involved in human rights violations, such as acts of torture.

During the international human rights day commemoration on Monday, Sampa said December 10 also marks the close of the 16 days of activism against Gender Based Violence. He said it was NGOCC’s expectation that the government would provide an update on what exactly happened on that fateful day at the University of Zambia. Sampa said more still remains to be done in order to promote various freedoms, including that of expression and association regardless of one’s political and other affiliations. She said as the focal point of the women’s movement, NGOCC remained concerned with some violations of human rights, especially by state agencies, such as the Zambia Police.

“In particular, we are concerned about the report by the Ministry of Justice that government was losing a lot of resources through compensation and awards to victims of police brutality. Just a few months ago, Zambia lost a young vibrant life (Ms Vespers Shimunzhila) at the University of Zambia (UNZA) under very unfortunate circumstances. May I take this opportunity to appeal to the government to expedite the process of inquiry to probe the death of Ms Shimunzhila. It is NGOCC’s expectation that government will provide an update on what exactly happened on that fateful day at the university grounds,” she said.

She said NGOCC was also deeply concerned about the selective application of the Public Order Act (POA), which the police had effectively used to deny citizens their rights to freely assemble.

“We, however, welcome government’s initiative to expedite the process of reviewing the Public Order Act. In addition, the need for the inclusion of the expanded Bill of Rights cannot be overemphasized. We, therefore, call upon government to consider holding a national referendum so that the expanded bill of rights can be included in the Republican constitution,” she said.

And Sampa said the end of the 16 days of gender activism should by no means be the end in the collective resolve to root out of society of this vice which was fast eroding the core existence and mutuality of relations

Sampa said the 2018 16 days of activism observance, under the theme, Orange the world: Hear me too, was a reminder to all that a future without Gender Based Violence was possible.

She appealed to all stakeholders, the government, the church, the private sector and civil society to get together to devise workable strategies that would address the evil scourge.

She said this year’s human rights day theme, “stand up for equality, justice and human rights” comes at a time when all needed a reminder that equity and equality in accessing justice has remained a far reaching cry for the majority women in Zambia.

Sampa said gender inequality, had remained one of the challenges that the women’s movement have been working to address.

She said for human rights to become a reality, states (or governments) and the international community must take steps to create the necessary conditions and legal frameworks necessary for the enjoyment of the rights.

Sampa said there should also be a system where people could seek help from the courts of law for their violations.
And Mwandenga said there was no doubt that Zambia had made and continues to make strides in improving the human rights situation in the country.

“We have seen high political commitment to adhering to Zambia’s international human rights obligations as demonstrated by the high number of recommendations which Zambia voluntarily accepted to implement during the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva in 2017. Indeed, the government through the Ministry of Justice has been spearheading a robust Programme for Legal Empowerment on Enhanced Justice Delivery (PLEED), which has contributed to increased access to justice,” he said.

He said the current programme on rehabilitating and constructing new correctional facilities was commendable and needs to be scaled up in order to enhance the protection of the rights of inmates and to also create a conducive environment befitting of the constitutional requirement of transforming prisons to correctional facilities.

Mwandenga said there was need to replace the Human Rights Commission Act, chapter 48 of the Laws of Zambia with a revised Act that will give legal effect to the constitutional provisions.

“The revised Act will empower the Human Rights Commission to effectively execute its constitutional mandate and enhance stakeholders’ confidence in the manner human rights are being promoted and protected by the national human rights institution in Zambia,” he said.

Mwandenga said the commission also remains deeply concerned at the continued reported and documented cases of brutality, torture and in some cases extra-judicial killings of suspects by the Zambia Police Service.

He said there was need for executive guidance and administrative action aimed at ending such grave violations.

Mwandenga said there was also need for effective sanctions against law enforcement officers involved in human rights violations, such as acts of torture.

“To this end, the commission is calling for speedy enactment of the law criminalising torture in Zambia. The commission is aware that the Anti-Torture draft bill was adopted by Cabinet on 4thDecember 2017, more than 12 months ago, but to date it has not been presented for enactment into law in Parliament,” he said.

“The enactment of the law criminalising torture in Zambia will result into domesticating the UN against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which Zambia ratified 20 years ago in 1998.  It is also one of the 183 recommendations which Zambia accepted to implement during the UPR in 2017 in Geneva.”

Mwandenga said equally of grave concern to the commission and the human rights fraternity was the continued violation of the right to peaceful assembly through discriminatory application of the Public Order Act.

He said the country had continued witnessing some individuals or groups of individuals being summoned, arrested, charged and sometimes arraigned in the courts of law for simply expressing themselves in a non-violent manner on matters of public interest such as defending human rights.

“It is common understanding that the Public Order Act has continued being administered in a manner that suppresses the expression of divergent and dissenting views. The selective application of the public order Act contributes a large share to denting Zambia’s human rights record.  The commission is longing for a time when everyone, regardless of one’s political affiliations or views, will have equal protection and benefit of the public order Act. Therefore, there is need for a clear executive and administrative guidance to the Zambia Police Service against continued selective application of the Public Order Act,” he said.

Mwandenga said the police must be guided to operate within the dictates of constitutionalism, rule of law, human rights and promotion of an inclusive democratic system of governance for sustainable development.

He said there was no doubt that the current efforts to amend the Public Order Act were encouraging.

“However, similar efforts have been made before in the past 20 years, but to no avail. There is need to break with the past record of unfilled commitments towards amending the Public Order Act to improve the governance and human rights record of this country,” he said.

And Mwandenga said the commission remained opposed to the death penalty.

He commended President Edgar Lungu for continuing the best human rights practice of commuting death sentences to life imprisonment.

Mwandenga said this was because state-sanctioned execution of individuals convicted of committing capital crimes, regardless of being lawful, remained as cruel and inhumane as an act of committing that crime by the offender.

“It is, therefore, a grave human right violation of depriving someone of their precious life. In this regard, the commission would like to call for continuous public sensitisation and stakeholders’ engagement on the question of abolishing death penalty,” he said.

Source: The Mast

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