12 February 2013

Zambia: Commonwealth Petitioned to Investigate Rights Abuses by Government

press release

President Michael Sata accused of inciting ethnic violence, abusing law enforcement bodies to persecute opponents, and judicial interference

Report cites wide-ranging violations of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and attacks on civil society

JOHANNESBURG, February 12, 2013 - Leaders of both civil society and major opposition political parties have gathered in Johannesburg to reaffirm their joint commitment to multiparty democracy in Zambia and to publicly urge the Commonwealth to appoint an envoy to undertake an independent investigation.

The opposition and civil society representatives are endorsing a petition filed on January 25th, 2013 before the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat for referral to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). The 40-page report, prepared on behalf of victims of human and civil rights abuses by the Coalition for the Defence of Democratic Rights (CDDR), presents evidence showing "serious and persistent" violations of the principles of the Commonwealth's Harare Declaration by the Patriotic Front government of President Michael Sata.

"We may be diverse in our interests, agenda, and political positions, however we are here today united in the belief that Zambia must respect basic rights and freedoms according to the law," said Robert Amsterdam, an international lawyer who assisted the CDDR in the preparation of the Commonwealth filing. "It is our position that the current government has repeatedly broken the law and violated the rights of both civil society and opposition political parties. We are asking to the Commonwealth to fulfill their commitment to expanding the role of the CMAG as stated in October 2011, and appoint an envoy to conduct an independent investigation into these violations."

The participants endorsing the Commonwealth petition gathered in Johannesburg include Dr. Nevers Mumba, President of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), Hakainde Hichilema, President of the United Party for National Development (UPND), Edwin Sakala, President of the Zambia Direct Democracy Movement (ZDDM), Sakwiba Sikota, President of the United Liberal Party (ULP), and Former Republican President Rupiah Banda.

The document presented to the Commonwealth presents detailed information on the unlawful nature of detentions of leaders like Dr. Mumba, who was arrested and jailed three times in just two months. It also highlights the police brutality and use of violence against Hichilema and other UPND members. Citing statements made by President Sata ordering the army to fire upon Zambian citizens in the breakaway region of Barotseland, the report raises urgent concerns over incitement of ethnic violence by the current Zambian government.

"This is a government that has behaved in a criminal fashion, and average Zambian citizens are suffering greatly from their destructive and selfish policies," said Dr. Mumba.

"If you objectively look at the pattern of abuses committed by this government, not just against opposition parties but also civil societies and business competitors of their allies, it is difficult not to conclude that we are on the road back towards the one-party state," said Hichilema.

The opposition and civil society representatives have agreed to explore legal coordination to ensure that the Zambian government's attack on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are brought to the attention of the international community before further damage is caused. The parties gathered here see the accelerated pace of repression in Zambia as tied to the brutal fight for succession going on within the ruling Patriotic front Government.

Representing a broad array of opposition parties, political figures, and private citizens, Coalition for the Defence of Democratic Rights (CDDR) is a legal defence alliance formed in response to increasing harassment and interference by the authorities and related parties.

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