THE Human Rights Commission (HRC) has called for the respect of the rule of law and human rights during the enforcement of guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In a statement, Sunday, HRC spokesperson Mweelwa Muleya stated that the commission had noted with concern public officials advocating for the violation of human rights against individuals failing to comply with the guidelines on COVID-19
“The Human Right Commission is calling for respect for constitutionalism, the rule of law and human rights during the enforcement of guidelines on preventing the spread of Coronavirus. The Commission is making this call against the background of numerous complaints it has received and its own observations on actions and public statements by some public officials advocating violation of human rights against individuals failing to comply with the guidelines on COVID-19,” Muleya stated.
“Based on the foregoing, as a Constitutional Body mandated to promote and protect human rights in Zambia, the Commission wishes to guide that neither the Constitution nor human rights have been suspended because of Coronavirus in Zambia. What is true is that there is a legal and legitimate restriction of human rights, particularly the rights to freedom of assembly, association and movement as a matter of public health interest, which is in line with international and regional human rights standards. Therefore, everyone is required to comply with the issued guidelines because they are in line with international human rights law and meant for everyone’s protection of the right to health and life.”
He stated all punishment meted on all suspects should be in line with the penal laws as prescribed under the Statutory Instruments on COVID-19.
“However, the fundamentality of promoting and protecting public health and the right to life should not be a license for advocating or engaging in human rights violations such as administering corporal punishment or physical beating of the suspects. Corporal punishment constitutes torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment which is totally prohibited under Article 15 of the Constitution and under International and Regional Human Rights Law to which Zambia is a party,” he stated.
“Any punishment that has to be meted out on the suspects should be in line with Penal Laws and/or as prescribed under the Statutory Instruments on COVID 19 namely the Public Health (Notifiable Infections Disease) (Declaration) (Notice) 2020, Statutory Instrument No. 21 of 2020 and the Public Health (Infected Areas) (Coronavirus Disease 2019) Regulations 2020, Statutory Instrument No.22 of 2020 both gazette on the 13th March 2020 .In this regard Statutory Instrument No. 22 of 2020 is instructive that those who fail to comply with the guidelines shall be liable, upon conviction, to a fine not exceeding two thousand and five hundred penalty units equivalent to K750 or to six months imprisonment or to both. Further, the Statutory Instrument also clearly designates responsible officers for the enforcement of the guidelines. Therefore, the Commission is calling for total adherence to the Guidelines on COVID 19 by ensuring that its enforcement is as prescribed in the interest of respect for constitutionalism, the rule of law and human rights. ”
Muleya insisted that there was need for senior government officials to respect the rule of law.
“To this end, the Commission wishes to appeal to everyone, including Senior Government Officials to respect the rule of law by allowing designated Ministries or institutions and officers to accordingly enforce the guidelines in order to avoid arbitrariness and lawlessness, which result into violation of human rights. The Commission is cognizant of the fact that while citizens’ arrest is legal, it does not empower citizens, regardless of their status, to punish or order punishment of suspects but to hand them over to law enforcement officers for prosecution in the courts of law,” stated Muleya.
“Only the courts of law are legally allowed to hand down punishment in accordance with the prescribed laws to ensure that only legal, necessary and proportionate punishment is given to offenders upon being found guilty through the due process of the law. The Commission will continue sensitizing the public on the need to adhere to the Guidelines on COVID 19 because they are in the best public health interest. Further, the Commission will also continue monitoring the human rights situation arising from the implementation of the Guidelines and response to COVID 19 to ensure that there is respect for the constitution, the rule of law and human rights amidst the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic.”