Human Rights Commission Spokesperson Mweelwa Muleya says there is need for a more reconciliatory approach towards resolving issues that affect students in institutions of higher learning other than using force.

Commenting on the brutal manner in which police officers on the Copperbelt manhandled students at the Copperbelt University during their protests over a week ago, Muleya in a statement urged the police to refrain from invading students’ room during protests.

He also called on students to stop the practice of stoning and verbally abusing officers assigned to maintain law and order at the institutions.

“The Human Rights Commission (HRC) wishes to call upon the Zambia Police Service to refrain from invading rooms of suspected protesting students, dragging them out of their rooms and brutalising them before detaining them. The Commission also calls on students to stop the practice of stoning and verbally abusing police officers assigned to maintain law and order at the campuses because it is the constitutional mandate of police officers to maintain law and order as well as protect life and property. Stoning and verbally abusing police officers, or any individual or group of individuals for that matter, is a violation of their inherent rights and dignity,” Muleya stated.

He stressed the need for improved dialogue based on mutual respect and trust between government and students on the bursary scheme.

“There is also need for improved dialogue based on mutual respect and trust between the Government and Students who are on the Bursary Scheme. There is need for proactive attention to students’ needs as opposed to the apparent reactive approach after students have protested. It is also the view of the HRC that there should be no witch-hunt of suspected students ring leaders in the protest as that may lead to victimisation and violation of their right to education and to freedom of expression,” he stated.

He added that the commission’s investigations revealed that police officers crossed the line of law enforcement and violated the rights of students during the CBU protests.

“Some police officers crossed the line of enforcing the law and engaged in violation of human rights, which is a breach of their own mandate under Article 193 (e) of the Zambian Constitution. The practice of repeatedly physically assaulting a suspect who has already been apprehended and is clearly incapable of resisting or causing harm, is clearly an act of cruelty, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which is a grave violation of human rights. The HRC is however encouraged by the positive attitude shown by the Copperbelt Police Command which acknowledged the fact that it was possible that the police could pick up innocent students from the room. The police leadership equally disapproved the conduct of breaking up of students’ rooms and brutalising students who were already under their custody,” Muleya stated.

He further appealed to managements at higher learning institutions to respect the rights of the students populous and allow students to elect representatives of their own choice.

Muleya feared that a witch-hunt of ring leaders in the recent protest would worsen the strained relationship between the police and students.

“During the said meeting of 15th December 2017 between the students and officials, there was a public pronouncement that a reward would soon be staked out for anyone who would lead to the identification of suspected ring leaders in students’ unrest. HRC strongly objects to that kind of approach as it may lead to witch-hunting and victimisation of students. Such an action may further restrain the relationship between the government and the students,” said Muleya.

“HRC therefore calls for a more reconciliatory approach towards resolving the issues affecting the students. Protests by students are historical and the reasons that cause them are almost always predictable and should therefore not result into witch-hunt. Instead, authorities should focus on finding durable solutions to mitigating the challenges facing the education sector, using a human rights-based approach to resolving the challenges and conflicts.”