Human Rights Developments
The run-up to the multiparty elections scheduled for November 18 saw a deterioration in respect for human rights. This was disappointing; Zambia had been heralded as a model for democracy after the peaceful transfer of power in November 1991, when the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and its leader Frederick Chiluba gained a landslide victory over President Kenneth Kaunda and his United National Independence Party (UNIP).
The electoral registration process for the 1996 general elections was itself controversial. Fewer than 2.3 million people had been registered, less than for the last two elections in Zambia, in part because of voter apathy and lack of trust in the registration process. Registration was also marked with irregularities. There was evidence that duplicate National Registration Cards were issued to some voters and that duplicate names appeared on the rolls, while the names of others were arbitrarily omitted. There were also incidents where registration officers asked a fee for registration and turned away known UNIP supporters.
The ruling MMD deliberately blurred the distinction between party and state. In Lusaka=s Soweto Market the MMD conducted a voter registration exercise, its militants pressuring people to put down their market store numbers and to confirm affiliation to the MMD in return for registration. Human Rights Watch/Africa also obtained documentation showing an MMD scheme to expand the police with its own supporters before the elections. The government also reportedly distributed relief maize and fertilizers as a campaign tool in the Chikankata by-election. Government officials had also threatened to deny state services to constituencies that did not vote for the ruling MMD. At the Makaika by-election in March, Deputy Minister for Education Newton Ng=uni said that while there were 660 desks to be delivered before the end of April, Aif you vote for a UNIP candidate I will not deliver the desks.@
The conduct of the MMD at the Moomba and Mkaika by-elections in April was also marked by other types of intimidation and violence. People were beaten up by party cadres. Camps of these party cadres were placed strategically close to polling stations. Houses belonging to UNIP supporters in Mkaika were burned down and physical violence was attributed to MMD supporters.
The main opposition party, UNIP, also engaged in electoral abuses. In the Moomba and Mkaika by-elections, UNIP cadres assaulted MMD supporters and villagers they suspected of supporting the MMD. UNIP leader Kenneth Kaunda neither condemned the violence nor appealed to his supporters to refrain from violence during the by-elections. Such inter-political clashes in the by-elections restricted freedom of movement among the villagers in these constituencies. Nor could politicians from both sides freely campaign, hold meetings or move around.
The government forced a radical amendment to the 1991 constitution through the MMD-dominated parliament in May, rejecting demands that major constitutional reforms first be agreed by a Constituent Assembly and subjected to a referendum, as proposed by the Mwanakatwe Constitutional Review Commission in 1995. Particularly controversial was a provision in the Constitutional Amendment act (1996) that imposed new requirements on persons seeking to hold the office of president. These included that the person be a Zambian citizen born to parents who are Zambian by birth or descent and that the person not be a tribal chief. These requirements appeared to be precisely tailored to disqualify specific opposition leaders from running for president, including former president Kenneth Kaunda. Some of the new restrictions appeared to violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Zambia is a party. Articles 25 and 2 of the covenant guarantee to citizens the right Ato be elected at genuine periodic elections@ without Aunreasonable@ restrictions and without Adistinctions@ such as birth, national origin, or political opinion. The disqualification of all but second or third generation Zambians from office appeared unreasonable, especially in light of the transparent political motivation to exclude UNIP leaders from the race.
The constitutional amendment was vigorously challenged by
opposition political parties, civic associations, human rights and women=s groups, in part because it would damage the opposition=s chances effectively to participate in the upcoming election. The article in effect banned UNIP leader Kaunda--who is partially of Malawian heritage-- and UNIP=s vice presidential candidate--a tribal chief--from running. On October 23 the UNIP announced that it would not field candidates in the elections. On October 23 the UNIP announced that it would not field candidates in the elections scheduled for November 18 unless the contentious clauses of the constitution and amendment were removed or unless the elections were held under the provisions of the 1991 constitution before the 1996 amendment. Seven other opposition parties joined the boycott on October 24.
In June and July, a shadowy group called the ABlack Mamba@ was blamed by the government for a spate of bomb blasts and threats in Lusaka and on the Copperbelt, in Ndola and Kitwe. Most of the bombings caused minor damage but on June 6, in an attempt to defuse a bomb planted at Lusaka International Airport, one bomb disposal expert was killed and another seriously injured.
The arrest in early June of UNIP vice president Senior Chief Inyambo Yeta and seven other members of UNIP in connection with the spate of bombings increased uncertainty and fear. All were committed to the Lusaka High Court for trial and were charged with treason and murder in July. Two were released in early September. On September 27 the state closed its case after calling forty-three witnesses. The trial provided little evidence to suggest that these UNIP members were involved in any violent conspiracy against the state. It appeared that they were detained solely because of their political affiliation. On November 1, the remaining six were acquitted of treason and murder charges, there being no evidence to prove that they were linked to the ABlack Mamba.@ According to the judge, more than one Aterrorist group@ existed. The responsibility for the acts attributed to ABlack Mamba@ remained unclear, though the defense lawyers in the ATreason Trial@ attempted to prove that the ABlack Mamba@ bombings were the work of the government. But in judgment on November 1, Justice Peter Chitengi said there was no evidence to that effect either.
The independent press was also a target for government intimidation throughout the year. The Post newspaper was under particular attack. In February police arrested three of its editors and banned edition 401 before its distribution because it reported that the government was secretly planning to hold a referendum on the constitution without giving much advance warning to the public. That day=s on-line edition was also banned, making it the first act of censorship on the Internet in Africa. The three journalists faced a minimum of twenty-five years in jail on charges under the Official Secrets Act, for receiving Aclassified information.@
On February 22, the Zambian parliament made an unprecedented decision to try and sentence The Post=s editor, Fred M=membe, Bright Mwape, the managing editor and columnist Lucy Sichone to imprisonment for an indefinite period. The sentence was recommended by the Standing Orders Committee following the publication of articles which claimed that certain parliamentarians lowered the dignity of the House. M=membe and Mwape, prisoners of conscience for the expression of their views, were, however, released in March after the Lusaka High Court ruled that they had been Awrongly sentenced@ in absentia.
The judiciary came under attack from government supporters especially after the Supreme Court in January struck down provisions in the Public Order Act, finding that the requiring of permits for meetings was a contravention of the Zambian peoples= constitutional rights. After a Parliamentary Code of Conduct tribunal found the then Legal Minister Remmy Mushota guilty in July of Asubverting laid down procedures,@ for which he was dismissed from office, Mushota himself became the most outspoken critic of the judiciary. The campaign against it was never condemned by the office of the president, which, despite Mushota=s disgrace, appointed him in August to the Citizenship Board of Zambia. This gesture of support appeared to have encouraged other government officials and the pro-government press to criticize the judiciary and Aopposition@ lawyers, such as those who defended UNIP=s ATreason Trialists,@ and the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ).
One particular focus for these attacks was the championing of exclusivist ethnic politics, with the judiciary characterized as mainly deriving from Zambia=s Eastern province or Malawi. George Kunda, the chairperson of LAZ was, for example, put under investigation by immigration officials about his nationality status.
The Munyama Human Rights Commission which had a mandate to investigate and establish reports of human rights abuses between 1972 and 1993, effectively the Kaunda government=s human rights record, had its report published by the government in October, over a year after its submission. The government=s White Paper on human rights, released at the same time, declared that a permanent human rights commission would be established which would submit annual reports to the president and parliament. It would also have the power to freely investigate complaints of violations, visit jails and detention centers, and to recommend to the president and parliament effective measures to promote human rights and provide compensation. But there was no clear directive in the report about accountability for past human rights abuses.
The Munyama Commission also investigated prison conditions. It found that conditions of prisons were appalling, with food insufficient or unfit for human consumption, widespread illness, denial of medical treatment, and prisoners being denied basic necessities such as soap and clothing. Five prisoners were reported to have died of starvation in Kamfinsa State prison, Kitwe in July. A High Court judge toured Lusaka Central Prison in September and was told that cells built for twenty inmates housed seventy. Prison Service public relations officer Augustine Phiri admitted in August that the average death rate of prisoners held by the service was 6.66 per month, attributing this to overcrowding.
The Right to Monitor
Zambia in 1996 experienced a growth in the number of organizations and individuals active in monitoring human rights. In early 1996 a coalition of many of these groups, the Committee for a Clean Campaign, was launched to monitor the run-up to the 1996 multiparty elections. The government=s response was to increase its harassment of these local groups. Individuals from the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ), the Zambia Independent Monitoring Team (ZIMT), the Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice (CCPJ) and the Forum for Democratic Process (FODEP) were called Aforeigners@ by government ministers, trying in this way to undermine their public credibility.
Several Zambian groups engaged in human rights had reported that their phones are tapped. During a ATreason Trial@ hearing Police Chief-Inspector Muleshi admitted in August that he had bugged The Post=s telephone in violation of the Telecommunications Act of 1994. These human rights groups also reported threats from individuals whom they suspected were linked to government. The government also avoided meeting these groups at a senior level. By contrast, international human rights monitoring groups had experienced no government impediment, although government senior officials were reluctant to discuss human rights issues with them. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative sent a three person team to Zambia in late 1996 Its report, released on September 23, urged dialogue and compromise between all sides and called for donor unity in pressing the Zambian government to improve its record on good governance.
The Role of the International Community
The support of international aid of up to US$1 billion a year was vital to the progress of the economic reform program of President Chiluba. As Zambia=s largest revenue earner, aid had accounted for some 70 percent of gross domestic product. In 1992, Zambia received about $1.2 billion in nonemergency aid, three times the average in Africa. But in 1996 the aid pledged was only $800 million, down a third from the 1992 figure. At the heart of the decline in donor commitments were issues of good governance, accountability and democratic practice.
The World Bank=s Consultative Group for Zambia (the AParis Club@) met in Bournemouth in December 1995. The donors indicated that the level of assistance in 1996 would be determined by the Zambian government maintaining the momentum of its economic reform program and Atangible@ progress on governance issues. A strongly worded demarche was handed over to the government.
As 1996 progressed and the government showed itself little inclined to act upon its commitments to good governance, Western donors began to cut back bilateral aid, particularly balance of payment support. Norway led the way in May, suspending its balance of payments support. In the following months the European Union (E.U.) countries followed. Britain, Denmark and Sweden all suspended balance of payments support for violations of good governance norms. Unusually, for the Japanese government, its Lusaka mission also issued a press release in August emphasizing the need for good governance.
The E.U. did not lead the initiative to push for improved human rights and good governance issues. The member states were at first divided over tactics. But by September there was a converging of views, with the exception of the Republic of Ireland whose diplomatic mission in Lusaka appeared less enthusiastic about publicly voicing human rights concerns there. In May 1996 the E.U. finally issued a demarche to the Zambian government over its Constitutional Amendment Act, drawing special attention to the exclusion from running in the forthcoming presidential elections of UNIP leader Kaunda. This was followed in September by demarches to both the government and opposition urging them to enter into Aintensive dialogue.@ In November, the E.U. said it would closely monitor Zambia=s preparation for elections and emphasized the need for the highest electoral standards. The E.U. expressed the hope that Aeven at this late stage, it will be possible to hold elections which are free and fair and acceptable to all parties.@
The United States (U.S.) played an important role throughout the year in pressuring the Zambian government to improve its human rights record. USAID announced in July that it was cutting aid to Zambia by more than 10 percent (worth $2.5 million) because of the recent constitutional amendments, especially the exclusion of Kaunda from standing for president. Planned U.S. government assistance for the 1996 fiscal year was $19,024,000 but USAID=s assistance program in Zambia remained under continuous review and cuts in the 1997 financial year program were possible.
During her nomination hearing in June the U.S. ambassador-designate to Zambia, Arlene Render, strongly criticized the Zambian government=s performance on good governance issues. Her concern was also shared by Senator Nancy Kassebaum, the chair of the Senate Africa Subcommittee, who, with Senator Edward Kennedy, wrote to President Chiluba in June raising Aserious questions about Zambia=s commitment to democracy.@