- Amnesty International calls on President Hichilema to repeal repressive legislation, including the Public Order Act
- Amnesty also calls for accountability for unlawful killings and police brutality
- Also calls for an end to use of torture and the death penalty
Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard has urged President Hakainde Hichilema to move with speed to honour his promise on human rights during his tenure, including by repealing oppressive legislation such as the Public Order Act that has been used by successive administrations to curtail human rights, she said today as she concluded her visit to the country.
Time is of essence. President Hichilema must move with speed with the renewed leadership to reverse the human rights downward spiral that we have witnessed in the past 10 yearsAgnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International
The Secretary General met with President Hichilema at State House in Lusaka last week during her three-nation high level mission to Africa, after being in Kenya and proceeding to South Africa where she will launch the organization’s global assessment of the state of human rights on 28 March.
“During the previous administration, we have seen Zambia’s human rights situation deteriorates drastically, most notably with authorities using vague and wide-ranging tactics to muzzle independent and critical voices,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“President Hichilema must show leadership and keep his human rights pledges by turning the tide against oppression and human rights violations that Amnesty and others have documented in the past few years. This starts with implementing Zambia’s human rights obligations and ensuring respect for the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and taking decisive and effective action to end abuses and impunity for past violations by police.”
Repeal repressive laws used to crackdown on human rights
The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly had come under increasing attack in Zambia, particularly over the past five years, with opposition leaders and activists jailed for either exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly or association.
Police regularly used the overly broad and vague provisions of the Public Order Act and the Penal Code to clamp down on rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, especially protests against allegations of government corruption and attack on the rule of law.
Under former President Edgar Lungu’s administration, authorities weaponized the law to criminalize peaceful dissent, charging critics with a wide range of offences including criminal defamation, incitement of public disorder and sedition.
For example, on 9 March 2020, police arrested a 15-year-old boy in Kapiri Mposhi, and charged him with three counts of criminal libel after he allegedly criticized President Lungu on Facebook.
Authorities must repeal the repressive legislation, especially the Public Order Act, and the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act that have been used to suppress human rights, including freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression.
“Time is of essence. President Hichilema must move with speed with the renewed leadership to reverse the human rights downward spiral that we have witnessed in the past 10 years.” said Agnès Callamard.
“President Hichilema should put forward a clear roadmap to deal with the past human rights and offer a new start.”
Accountability for unlawful killings and police brutality
At least five people have been killed by the police since 2016 during peaceful gatherings or protests. The Police have regularly used excessive force to break up peaceful assemblies. On 22 December 2020, police officers shot dead two unarmed people at a gathering of opposition supporters. Several people had assembled to show their solidarity with president Haikainde Hichilema — who was the leader of the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) at the time — after he was summoned for questioning at the police headquarters in Lusaka. State prosecutor Nsama Nsama, who was not part of the gathering, was shot dead while buying a meal at a nearby restaurant, while Joseph Kaunda, a UPND supporter, was shot by police as they dispersed the crowd.
In October 2018, Vesper Shimuzhila, a student at the University of Zambia, died after police threw a tear gas canister into her room as they violently dispersed a student protest.
President Hichilema should put forward a clear roadmap to deal with the past human rights and offer a new startAgnès Callamard
The government must undertake prompt, thorough, impartial, independent, effective and transparent investigations into all cases of unlawful killings, including by security forces. Suspected perpetrators must be brought to justice in fair trials. Authorities must ensure access of victims to justice and effective remedies.
The authorities must also abolish the death penalty, which is a violation of the right to life, and stop the use of torture by the police.
Economic and Social Rights
Amnesty International is also calling for President Hichilema to take effective action to place socio-economic rights firmly 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 since 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,” said Agnès Callamard.
“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.”
To read the Secretary General’s end of visit statement please click here
Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, is on a three-nation, High Level Mission that will see her visit Kenya, Zambia and South Africa to engage with government leaders, partners, civil society and other interested stakeholders to strengthen a culture of human rights.
She began her mission in Kenya on 8 March and will conclude her trip in South Africa, where she will launch the organization’s global assessment of the state of human rights for both 2021 and 2022 on 28 March. Journalists who want to cover the event either virtually or in Johannesburg should contact Amnesty International’s press office.
During his inauguration on 24 August, President Hakainde Hichilema promised to build a Zambia where “fundamental human rights are protected”.