Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard says government should adopt and anti-Torture Act but repeal Defamation of the President and Sedition.

And Callamard has commended Zambia’s decision to vote against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In an interview with News Diggers at Southern Sun Hotel in Lusaka, Friday, Callamard stressed the need for legal, policy, and institutional reforms to repeal the archaic Penal Code provisions such as the Defamation of the President.

“We need to see good intentions cemented, strengthened and built upon a good foundation. That means good laws, good institutions and good policies. Practically, there needs to be legal reforms, policy reforms, and institutional reforms. The Zambia Law [Development] Commission itself has already identified what needs to be done. The archaic provisions of the Penal Code provisions must be repealed. That includes Section 57 on Sedition; Section 69 on Defamation of the President; Section 71 on [Defamation of] Foreign Princes. All those provisions must be repealed,” Callamard said.

She insisted that there was need to amend the Public Order and Cyber Security Acts.

“Secondly, Access to Information laws, Anti-Torture Acts must be adopted. Thirdly, the Public Order Act and the Cyber Security Act must be amended. In our view, those are steps that should have been taken already. At the moment, we are not seeing enough steps taken into that direction. We are absolutely convinced of the commitment of the President but we are not fully convinced that members of his government are moving things speedily as they should. And that includes the Ministry of Information and the Home Affairs Ministry, they have a big responsibility. The President must hold them to account for taking these steps. We need to have a roadmap for those legal reforms,” she said.

“And when it comes to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it is going to take a bit of more time because there is need for better and greater consultation. But that also means that the steps must be taken. The roadmap must be put out and people must know where the moments of consultations are, how it will happen and where? So, the mechanisms of consultations must be in the public domain.”

She said government should not tolerate use of lethal force on citizens by police.

“The government, through the President, must clearly state that there will be no impunity for crimes committed by state representatives, whether they were uniformed or not. Right now there is a regime of impunity around those acts of violence and the unlawful use of force on citizens. It is not acceptable. A President that is committed to the Rule of Law and to Human Rights protection cannot accept a regime of impunity. We need to see those statements translated into good action. Any officers in uniform who have committed crimes under the law and under international law must be tried. The use of lethal force is something that under the law should be very narrowly defined. You should not allow the police to start using lethal force in a way that is not heavily constrained. There is a problem with the system not being able to handle protests in a way that is in keeping what is expected from a well-trained police. So, systemic issues must be addressed,” Callamard said.

“The unlawful use of force cannot be tolerated. Anyone who has done so must be prosecuted. They must be internally investigated through an administrative process. But that is not enough; there also must be an external judicial process of investigation.”

She expressed concern that there were insufficient steps towards independent media self regulation.

“In terms of the Press Freedom environment, the IBA Act is an important Act for the protection of independent media. There seems to be feet dragging on that issue as there seems to be insufficient steps taken towards statutory self regulation. We are concerned. We need to see those steps taken. We need a proper environment where independent media can flourish. These are important factors to cement the Rule of Law and the Human Rights Protection that the President has in mind. By now we should have the roadmap. We should know what is going to happen and when. There shouldn’t be feet dragging. We need to see resolute commitment that translates into action,” Callamard said.

Meanwhile, Callamard said Zambia’s vote against Russia was a step in the right direction.

“We feel that Zambia has been on the right side of history and we feel that Zambia has taken a very strong stand against military aggression. It is unacceptable for any country within the world whether it’s in Africa, Europe, America to use their military power to impose and to destroy another country. And that is what Russia is doing. Russia is saying ‘I don’t care about the rules, I have the military power and I will invade an independent country, I will invade and destroy the infrastructures, aggress and get rid of the government.’ That is not acceptable. In the same way that Zambia needs the rule of law, we need the rule of law internationally. We cannot have an international system based on military power. It’s unacceptable. So, Zambia has taken a good stand. You cannot be neutral in front of military aggression and massive human rights violations as it is happening now in Ukraine,” Callamard said.

Callamard said her organisation would support President Hichilema’s commitment to protecting human rights.

And in a statement, Sunday, Callamard called on President Hichilema to take effective action to place socio-economic rights on his agenda, including tackling inequality, poverty and unemployment.

“He must also boost healthcare systems to aid the country’s recovery from Covid-19. Amnesty International commends the abolition of fees for public schools from the beginning of 2022, which will help ensure that no child is excluded from education due to a lack of funds. Tackling not only the impunity of the police for past human rights abuses but also inequality and poverty today are crucial steps the government must take in order to rebuild the country for a more just and equal future. President Hichilema has just started to write his own legacy as President of Zambia. The world is watching. He will be judged, in particular, by the extent to which he keeps his promise on human rights,” stated Callamard.