8 March 2013

Zambia: Kabimba Must Respect the Commonwealth Process, Says Amsterdam

press release

Following misleading statements made by Zambia's Minister of Justice Wynter Kabimba in the Post newspaper claiming that the government had been cleared of rights violations by a Commonwealth inquiry, lawyer for the Coalition for the Defence of Democratic Rights (CDDR) Robert Amsterdam issued the following statement:

It is wrong for Mr. Kabimba to so openly disrespect the fact-finding process of the Commonwealth by making these false statements. Most Zambians understand full well that it is impossible for anyone to declare knowledge of the outcome of a report that has not yet been completed, and in doing so, it is clear that he is attempting to improperly pressure the international organisation.

If the Commonwealth Secretariat so chooses to refer Zambia to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group for investigation, their representatives should be allowed by all parties to conduct a free and fair independent investigation into the current situation in Zambia absent of any pressure from either opposition, government, or third parties.

Mr. Kabimba has instead blatantly violated due process by prematurely speaking on their behalf. This is not entirely surprising, considering his conduct before the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), when he refused to answer questions and instead arrived with a violent mob of cadres. Shortly thereafter, President Michael Sata stunned the international community when he gave direct instructions to the ACC not to investigate his ministers without his permission. Such political interference with law enforcement represents just one of the grave violations of the Harare Principles outlined in the CDDR report.

It is deeply regrettable to us that the Minister of Justice continues to spread falsehoods in the public media. He has told the Post that the CDDR attempted to "sneak the document to the Secretariat," but in fact the report was distributed worldwide on February 12th and published online for anyone to download. Furthermore, many of the concerns raised in the document were earlier stated in a letter addressed to President Sata on Oct. 22, 2012, as well as contained in the open letter to the donor community published on June 6, 2012.

Yet, almost a month later, the government has still not made any specific refutation to the facts contained in the report. They have not explained why political parties have been banned from holding public rallies. They have not answered any of the well documented allegations of politically motivated arrests and jail terms against opposition candidates. They've given no answers to the questions we have asked concerning interference in the case of the Nchito-M'membe debt to Development Bank of Zambia, the rash of deportations to benefit their financier Rajan Mahtani, or the unlawful re-nationalisations and expropriations of private property. Nor have they explained the reasons behind their incitement of violence, as shown both by President Sata's orders to soldiers to fire upon citizens in Western Province, or to the repeated hoaxes of fake letters aimed at provoking hatred among different groups.

They have dodged all questions of corruption, particularly related to Mr. Kabimba's alleged influence over oil contracts and accusations of undeclared shareholdings in Midland Energy Zambia. Since coming into power, the PF have been enjoying their new powers, perhaps excessively. Mr. Sata and Mr. Kabimba have even founded a new company, called Ilunda Chalo, which will presumably conduct unknown business related to state affairs. Mr. Kabimba has indeed become a very rich man during his rapid rise to power, but as we can plainly see, he has also become morally bankrupt.

Instead, what they have done with admirable energy, is hurl defamatory insults toward me, including but not limited to "gold digger," "economic vampire," and "dog of war." I am flattered that the PF seems to think I am deserving of such attention, but these insults are hardly any substitution for the answers to the very legitimate and pressing questions we are raising. What, exactly, is this government afraid of? Keep in mind that the sole reason why we held the CDDR press conference in Johannesburg is because I have been preemptively denied permission to enter Zambia, which in and of itself represents a violation of my clients' right to counsel.

There is a strategy behind all the childish name-calling: the PF want to reduce this matter to a he-said-she-said, tit-for-tat exchange that is typical of daily partisan politics, but we refuse to be pulled into a schoolyard game.

The members of the CDDR take these allegations of violations of civil and political rights in Zambia very seriously, and will not rest until the government provides answers and is held to account.

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