Human Rights Commission (HRC) Chairperson Mudford Mwandenga has expressed concern with the continued selective application of the Public Order Act by Zambia Police, saying to a large extent, this dents Zambia’s human rights record.
And Mwandenga has called for the enactment of a revised HRC Act that will empower the Commission to effectively execute its constitutional mandate and enhance stakeholders’ confidence.
Meanwhile, Mwandenga says a law criminalizing torture in Zambia should be enacted in order to give legal effect to the constitutional provisions which prohibit torture and other ill-treatment of fellow human beings.
He was speaking during the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Monday.
“Equally of grave concern to the Commission and the human rights fraternity at large is the continued violation of the right to peaceful assembly through discriminatory application of the Public Order Act. The country has 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,” Mwandenga said.
“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 of denting Zambia’s human rights record.”
He said there was need for a clear executive and administrative guidance to Zambia Police against continued selective application of the POA.
“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. The Police must be guided to operate within the dictates of respect for constitutionalism, rule of law, human rights and promotion of an inclusive democratic system of governance for sustainable development,” he said.
“There is no doubt that the current efforts towards amending the Public Order Act are 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.”
And Mwandenga said there was no doubt that Zambia had made strides in improving the human rights situation.
He however said there was need to replace the HRC Act with a revised Act that would give legal effect to the constitutional provisions.
“On behalf of the Commission and indeed on my own behalf, I wish to acknowledge the positive government efforts towards enhancing the mandate of the Commission as provided for under the Constitution of Zambia [Amendment] Act No. 2 of 2016. However, there is 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. Therefore, we are calling for enactment of a revised Human Rights Commission Act as soon as possible,” he said.
Mwandenga said the revised Act would empower the Commission to effectively execute its constitutional mandate and enhance stakeholders’ confidence in the manner human rights were being promoted and protected by the National Human Rights Institution in Zambia.
He said the Commission remained deeply concerned at the continued reported cases of brutality, torture and in some cases, extra-judicial killings of suspects by the Zambia Police Service.
Mwandenga added that there was need for executive guidance and administrative action aimed at ending such grave violations.
He said there was also need for effective sanctions against law enforcement officers involved in human rights violations, such as torture.
“There is 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 criminalizing torture in Zambia. The Commission is aware that the anti-torture draft Bill was adopted by Cabinet on December 4, 2017, more than 12 months ago, but to date it has not been presented for enactment into law in Parliament,” Mwandenga stated.
He advised that the law criminalizing torture in Zambia be enacted in order to give legal effect to constitutional provisions which prohibits torture and other like ill-treatment of fellow human beings.
“The enactment of the law criminalizing torture in Zambia will result into domesticating the UN Convention 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,” said Mwandenga who also commended President Edgar Lungu for continuing the best human rights practice of commuting death sentences to life imprisonment.