The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has challenged government to expedite the enactment of the law criminalising torture in Zambia in order to provide for appropriate punishment to perpetrators.

In a statement, HRC spokesperson Mweelwa Muleya, who was commenting on the alleged abuse of an 11-year-old girl in Lusaka, stated that the continued harm suffered by victims of torture, especially vulnerable members of society like children, needed to remind government about the need to enhance the right to protection against torture by enacting the law.

“The HRC remains deeply concerned that perpetrators of acts of torture continue being charged with lesser offences of assault than the grave nature of torture because of the absence of the law criminalising torture in Zambia. To this effect, the Commission strongly urges government to speed up the process of enacting the law criminalising torture in Zambia to provide appropriate punishment to perpetrators, and remedies to victims of torture. It is deeply concerning that because of the absence of an Anti-Torture Act in Zambia, individuals who commit heinous acts of torture continue being charged with lesser offences of Common Assault and Assaults Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm as provided for under Sections 247 and 248 of the Penal Code Act, Chapter 87 of the Laws of Zambia,” Muleya stated.

“The lack of a an Act of Parliament criminalising torture in Zambia has also made it difficult for actors in the criminal justice system to invoke Article 15 of the Constitution of Zambia, Chapter 1 of the laws of Zambia, which prohibits torture. There is currently no law that criminalises and defines torture and provides penalties and remedies for acts of torture in Zambia, making it difficulties for law enforcement officers, prosecutors and the courts of law to invoke Article 15 of the Constitution of Zambia. It is the desire of the Commission that the Bill criminalising torture in Zambia will be enacted into law by the end of 2019, and that such a law should broaden the definition of torture to include acts committed by private individuals instead of only focusing on public officers. Acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are a gross violation of human rights and absolutely prohibited and punishable under international human rights law,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Muleya wondered why Zambia has still had not domesticated the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) Act 30 years following its ratification.

“Article 4 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) obliges State parties, such as Zambia, to enact laws that criminalise acts of torture and make such offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account the grave nature of torture. Zambia ratified the UNCAT 30 years ago in 1989, but she has not yet domesticated it by enacting national legislation to give legal effect to the global anti-torture law in Zambia. Although the Commission acknowledges the positive step taken by the government by drafting the Anti-Torture Bill, which was adopted in principle by Cabinet on 4th December, 2017, the apparent slow enactment process is deeply worrying,” stated Muleya.