Police officers caused Vesper Shimunzhila’s death and criminal charges should be preferred against them, recommends the Human Rights Commission.

And HRC says the state must cover all medical expenses and compensate students who lost property in the fires caused by police officers on October 4, 2018.

Meanwhile, HRC has asked Minister of Higher Education Professor Nkandu Luo to lift the ban on student unionism saying it is unconstitutional.

In an eight-paged summary statement on their findings on the students’ protest and the Zambia Police Service operation at the University of Zambia (UNZA) Great East Road Campus which took place on 4th and 5th October 2018, HRC revealed that after interviewing UNZA Security, UNZA Management, UNZA Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU), UNZA Clinic Management, University Teaching Hospital (UTH) Management as well as the Zambia Police Service, they concluded that police officers acted in a brutal manner.

“The Police were seen driving into UNZA Premises around midnight on 4th October 2018 and officers were seen jumping off a Green Nissan Police Vehicle and two other Land Cruisers, one of them labelled, “Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe Police Station”. According to witnesses, gunshots were heard in UNZA Campus and police officers were seen throwing suspected hand held-grenades and firing tear gas canisters into students’ rooms through windows. A total of six (6) students’ rooms where tear gas canisters were fired into were gutted by fire. The HRC heard that as the fire in October Hostel 2 Room 21 was being quenched by some students, some police officers repeatedly tear gassed the students who were quenching the fire and also rescuing their colleagues that were trapped in the rooms, causing October Hostel 2 Room 3, to also catch fire,” HRC stated.

“October Hostel 2, Room 25, which was occupied by eight (8) female students, was heavily affected by flames and fumes from Room 21 which was on fire. Some of the eight (8) female students escaped by climbing down through the window while the 23-year-old Everntyn Choongo, jumped from the room, which is on the third level of the building and suffered multiple fractures, including a broken lower spine. Another student, Trudie Kalimbwe, who was the last to leave room 25 alive, suffered burns on her hands and hair before escaping through the door. Regrettably, Vespers Shimuzhila, could not escape and was found unconscious by fellow students who braved the reported continued tear gassing. She was rushed to UNZA Clinic where she was pronounced as brought in dead and her body was transferred to Levy Mwanawasa Hospital before being transferred to UTH Mortuary.”

HRC revealed that tear gas cannisters were found in all the rooms that caught fire.

“During the morning of Friday 5th October 2018, after the police operation at UNZA, some students and UNZA security personnel went round the campus premises and rooms to assess the damage caused by the police operation during the previous night. A total of 26 spent canister cans, which included 23 long range spent canister cans and three (3) empty hand-held grenades, were found and collected. Spent canister cans were found in all the rooms that caught fire.
9. UNZA Clinical Medical Officers confirmed that a total of 23 students, 15 female and eight (8) male, were treated for varying degree injuries and for inhalation of tear gas during the police operation at UNZA. Of the 23 victims, nine (9) were treated for physical injuries while 14 were treated for inhalation of tear gas,” HRC stated.

“Medical Doctors interviewed and others who witnessed the post-mortem on the body of Vespers Shimuzhila informed the HRC that the Preliminary Report of the post- mortem indicated that Vespers Shimuzhila died of “suffocation due to carbon monoxide intoxication”.”

HRC concluded that police officers caused Shimunzila’s death and recommended that they be given criminal charges.

“It is therefore beyond any reasonable doubt that Vespers Shimuzhila did not die from a natural cause. Further, from all the evidence submitted by a wide range of witnesses during investigations, it can be concluded that the invasion of the UNZA Campus Premises and subsequent throwing of suspected hand grenades and firing of tear gas canisters into students rooms by the Zambia Police Service, caused the death of Vespers, the injury of other students as well as the loss of, and damage to University and Students’ Property. The Commission considers the firing of tear gas canisters in students’ rooms extremely unprofessional, an act of excessive use of force which resulted into a grave violation of the right to life, destruction and loss of property and undermining the right to education of the affected students whose education materials and equipment were either lost or damaged during the police night operation,” read the statement.

“It is clear from the totality of the evidence obtained that the police acted in an extremely brutal manner depicting a combative warfare situation against unarmed students who at that time no longer posed any real danger or violence to the police officers or to any other member of the public or property…Therefore, appropriate criminal charges should be preferred against all the police officers (including the senior police officers who were in-charge of the operation) for the ensuing loss of life, body injuries to several students and damage to property.”

HRC advised Shimunzhila’s family to sue the state and secure adequate compensation.

“The Zambia Police Service is a disciplined member of the armed forces and officers work under strict orders or instructions, and in an organized and clear channel of command, with specific officers in charge of every operation. To that effect, those who ordered the attack of students into their rooms are already known by the police. The HRC therefore calls upon the Zambia Police Command to own up and take responsibility over the death of Vespers Shimuzhila and injuries sustained by Everntyn Choongo, Trudie Kalimbwe and others as well as for the loss of property,” read the statement.

HRC commended government for evacuating Everntyn Choongo to South Africa for specialist treatment.

HRC advised police to limit their operations to keeping vigil outside campus and also urged students to air their grievances through proper channels.

Meanwhile, HRC asked Prof Luo to lift the ban on student unionism saying it is unconstitutional.

“The Minister of Higher Education should lift the ban on Students Union at all Higher Learning Institutions such as UNZA. The ban is not only a violation of the fundamental freedom of association guaranteed under Article 21 (1) of the Constitution but also a violation of Section 27 (1) of the Higher Education Act No. 4 of 2013 which provides that, “There shall be a students’ union in a higher education institution.” The student unrest of 4th October, 2018 demonstrated that banning student unions is not an effective remedy to averting student unrest. To the contrary, it makes the management of students’ welfare difficult as it breaks the communication channel between the students, UNZA management and the Government.
In concluding, the HRC wishes to stress that the Government of the Republic of Zambia has an inescapable mandate and obligation to ensure that whenever human rights violations occur within its jurisdiction, appropriate remedies are provided to the victims and/or to their families and perpetrators of human rights violations are punished in accordance with the existing national and international human rights laws to which it is a State Party,” read the statement.

HRC stated that the detailed investigations report had been submitted to key stakeholders; Government Ministries and Offices, UNZA Management, Police Public Complaints Commission, the Inspector General of Police and other affected or concerned parties for their information and/or action on the findings and recommendations made by the Commission.