Zambia holds its general elections every five years to elect councillors, parliamentary, mayoral and presidential candidates.

The countdown is underway, and most people are anxiously waiting for the imminent highly contested August 12 elections.

And Human rights defenders are on the ground standing up for citizenry to ensure violence-free and fair elections.

Human rights defenders play a vital role in defending the constitution and championing the rights of citizens as amplified in Article 2 of the 2016 amended constitution gives every Zambian the right and duty to defend the Constitution, resist or prevent a person from overthrowing, suspending or illegally abrogating the constitution.

Maiko Zulu, one of the country’s respected human rights defenders notes that human violations hinder young people’s participation in elections.

Zulu was speaking during the Oxfam supported ‘Our Zambia’ discussion program that airs every other Thursday on Phoenix FM.

“When you see a police officer shooting somebody in broad day light just because there were at some political rally, you fear for your life. As a young person you wonder. People have concentrated on having power, they have forgotten about the dynamics of building a community. These people you are engaging today, tomorrow they will need to come back to society. Already in the ghettos today, look at the number of firearms that you see, those things must be funded by some people,” Zulu said.

Namwawa Mumbi, a notable human rights defender, another guest on the program said human rights violations hindered women and youth participation in elections.

“Just try to walk to a local area and ask a woman randomly if they were given an opportunity today to stand (for higher office) they will definitely tell you no. Human rights are important and once somebody is enjoying them, they will be able to unleash their full potential and contribute in an effective way in their environment. And once you steal that from an individual, whether you want it or not, you begin to make them less human and that is where HRDs come in,” Namwawa responded.

She added that women are often hesitant to participate in electoral processes because of the ridicule, shaming, threats and attacks they experience or see other women in decision making positions experience. The political environment is not safe and far from accommodating.

Another role of human rights defenders in holding peaceful elections is to demand that political campaigns are crafted around the protection of individual rights of the citizens regardless of their political affiliations.
While democracy and elections are about the majority and the minority, human rights are about individuals and human rights defenders work to ensure the protection of a person’s rights.

Meanwhile, a caller only identified as Agness noted that whenever there’s fear, electorates tend to be scared of going to cast their votes and this results in voter apathy. All political actors will need to ensure an enabling environment anchored on meaningful and progressive discourse.

Another netizen Kalunga Kalembwe who followed the radio programme said political party cadres should be banned.
“Cadres must be banned, they incite fear in citizens using violence. Elections in Zambia do not favour people because of cadres. We do not freely have a right to belong or support a party of our choice. The streets need to be cleaned,” said Kalunga.

All too often, human rights defenders feel isolated, live with ever-present threats on their income, lives, or that of loved ones for protecting the constitution. As a citizenry, we need to support human rights defenders more so, during this election process.

The state too has a higher responsibility to protect human rights defenders with special attention to women and youth rights. Every election is an opportunity for a renewed commitment to fully realise these rights and make our country more fair, just, equal and democratic, free from extreme inequality.

Our Zambia is a Civil Society Poverty Observatory Group and Oxfam governance platform that brings citizens and experts together to share knowledge, experience and speak to power on issues affecting the nation. To join the conversation, follow the link below: