Elections and Human Rights in The Third Republic

Vol. 8, No. 4 (A), December 1996



On November 18, 1996, Zambians voted in parliamentary and presidential elections the second multiparty elections since the end in 1991 of twenty-seven years of authoritarian and mostly single-party rule, under former president Kenneth Kaunda. The Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) won the majority of seats contested and President Frederick Chiluba was returned to office in these 1996 elections although several opposition parties, including the former ruling United National Independence Party (UNIP) boycotted them. Unfortunately, numerous human rights violations before the vote undermined the democratic process, making the playing field for these elections tilted in favor of the ruling MMD and seriously undermining the legitimacy of the elections themselves. This has set a negative tone for the country's development over the next few years.

Human Rights Watch/Africa takes no position on the political contest in Zambia, and recognizes that some of the accusations made by the opposition parties may be exaggerated. However, it is the responsibility of the Zambian government to abide by the rule of law and ensure that the voting process, the basis of any democracy, proceeds in conformity with Zambian and international law.

Zambia had been heralded as a model for democracy in Africa after a peaceful transfer of power in November 1991, when the MMD and its leader Frederick Chiluba gained a landslide victory over President Kenneth Kaunda and his UNIP party. In contrast to the authoritarian Kaunda years, Zambia initially made overall progress toward respect for civil and political rights, with some liberalizing reforms. But by 1993 these reforms appeared to have stopped and the Chiluba government increasingly resorted to the same methods used under Kaunda's rule to suppress criticism. The one-party mentality is still deeply ingrained in many of the country's new leaders: critics of the ruling MMD are often regarded as critics of “democracy.”

The result is that Zambian citizens are still plagued by serious human rights violations such as restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, intimidation of those in the legal system and harassment of opposition political parties. Some of these abuses are a legacy of the Kaunda years, but in many cases the human rights violations are the result of new initiatives by the Chiluba government. State intimidation of the opposition increased significantly in 1995 when former president Kenneth Kaunda announced a formal return to politics, with the avowed aim to contest the country's 1996 presidential elections.

The run-up to the November 18, 1996 multiparty elections saw a number of abuses. There is evidence that duplicate National Registration Cards have been issued to some voters, that the names of others have been omitted from voters rolls and that duplicate names have appeared on the rolls. There have also been incidents where registration officers asked for 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 store numbers and to confirm affiliation to the MMD in return for registration. Human Rights Watch/Africa also obtained documentation showing a government/ruling party scheme to expand the police with MMD supporters before the elections. The government also reportedly distributed relief maize and fertilizers as a campaign tool in a by-election. Government officials have also threatened to deny state services and programs to constituencies that did not vote for the ruling MMD.

The conduct of the ruling MMD at the Moomba and Mkaika by-elections in April was marked by intimidation and violence, although UNIP supporters too resorted to violence. People were beaten up by party cadre from both sides, strategic camps of these cadres were placed close to polling stations and there were serious irregularities with the voter certificates. In Mkaika houses belonging to UNIP supporters were burnt down and there was other extensive physical violence laid to supporters of UNIP and the MMD by each other's cadres.

The main opposition party, UNIP also engaged in electoral abuses in other by-elections. UNIP cadres assaulted MMD supporters and villagers they suspected of supporting the MMD. Such inter-political clashes in the by-elections restricted freedom of movement among villagers in several constituencies. This intimidation resulted in the constituency being divided into partisan political zones which curtailed freedom of movement among the villagers in the area. 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 1996, 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 “to be elected at genuine periodic elections” without “unreasonable” restrictions and without “distinctions”; 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 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.

In June and July 1996, a shadowy group called the “Black Mamba” was blamed by the government for a spate of bomb blasts in Zambia and killed one person and injured another seriously. Eight UNIP officials including its vice president Senior Chief Inyambo Yeta were arrested in connection with the bombings in June and were committed to the Lusaka High Court charged with treason and murder. 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. They were acquitted of treason and murder charges by the High Court in November.

The independent press was also a target for government intimidation. The Post newspaper has been under particular attack. In February 1996 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 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 face a minimum of twenty-five years in jail on charges under the Official Secrets Act, for receiving and publishing, “classified information.”

On February 22, 1996, the Zambian parliament made an unprecedented decision to sentence to jail for an indefinite period without a trial and in absentia The Post's editor Fred M'membe, Bright Mwape, the managing editor, and columnist Lucy Sichone, for articles they wrote claiming certain parliamentarians lowered the dignity of the House. M'membe and Mwape, prisoners of conscience for the expression of their views, were released in March 1996 after the Lusaka High Court ruled that they had been wrongly sentenced in absentia.

Judicial independence came under attack from government supporters in 1996 especially after the Supreme Court in January struck down provisions of the Public Order Act, finding that the requiring of permits for meetings was a contravention of the Zambian peoples' constitutional rights. One particular focus of these attacks has been the championing of exclusivist ethnic politics, with the judiciary characterized as mainly from Eastern Province or Malawi. Leaders of opposition parties and civic groups have also had their nationality status challenged by government officials.

The support of international aid of up to US$1 billion a year has been vital to the progress of the economic reform program of President Chiluba. As Zambia's largest revenue earner, aid has accounted for some 70 percent of gross domestic product. In 1996 international aid pledged was down a third from the 1992 peak of $1.2 billion in nonemergency aid. At the heart of the decline in donor commitments were issues of good governance, accountability and democratic practice.



Based on the findings of this report, Human Rights Watch/Africa calls on the Zambian government to:

Guarantee the independence of the judiciary as required by Zambian and international law. In particular, the government should not orchestrate the appointment or dismissal of judges solely because of their political affiliations or regional origins.

Publicly dissociate itself from and condemn any efforts by public officials to undermine the independence of the judiciary.

Facilitate debate of the Mwanakatwe Constitutional Review Commission proposals; call elections to a constituent assembly to review and as appropriate amend the Constitution of 1991.

Guarantee the right to a fair trial by a competent and objective judiciary in accord with international standards. In cases where this right has been violated, submit the case for retrial or release the defendant. No one should be detained solely for the nonviolent expression of his or her political beliefs.

Stop harassment of journalists and encourage objective reporting in the state media.

As promised by the MMD in its election platform in 1991 and in 1996, ensure that all Zambians may exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association, that the organizations of civil society may freely operate, and that checks and balances of the different branches of government are respected. Safeguards to this end should be enacted in law.

Guarantee that people with diverse viewpoints are given appropriate access to state-owned radio and television.

Ensure a strict division between the functioning of government and the MMD party.

Stop providing state funds and facilities to support the MMD's political campaigns.

Investigate allegations of police abuse and improper treatment of those in detention, and hold those found responsible accountable before the law.

Guarantee that prisoners' rights are respected according to international law. This includes the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the right to adequate medical and sanitary facilities.

Enact quickly into law the Munyama Commission's recommendation that a permanent human rights commission be established. Ensure that this commission is objective and nonpartisan to avoid the possibility of political bias.

Provide government officials and police with special training about human rights standards and protection, while instituting procedures through which violations of human rights are the subject of effective investigation and criminal prosecution.


To all Zambian political parties Human Rights Watch/Africa recommends:

Publicly advocate the protection and respect for human rights in their platform and promise to hold party members who commit human rights abuses accountable.


To the International Community Human Rights Watch recommends:

Continue to pressure the government to improve its record on human rights as is integral to good governance, especially with respect to government transparency and accountability for its actions, through formal communications and other measures such as the conditioning of balance of payments support.

Support the efforts of civic organizations to play an active role in civil society, and in particular their efforts to monitor, lobby and campaign for improved human rights standards.

Human Rights Watch/Africa calls on The World Bank's Consultative Group for Zambia to:

Continue the Bournemouth meeting's agreed pressure on the Zambian government for “tangible progress on the governance issue,” and include specific reference to human rights as integral to this;

Maintain unity in the pressure for an improved Zambian government performance on human rights as integral to good governance.

Human Rights Watch/Africa calls on the United States to:

Encourage new U.S. ambassador Arlene Render to act on her commitment to vigorously promote human rights in Zambia by meeting regularly with the Zambia human rights community, publicly denouncing human rights abuses, and using U.S. bilateral assistance to Zambia to achieve maximum leverage on human rights.

Human Rights Watch/Africa calls on The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to:

Continue to press the Zambian government to improve its human rights record.

Send a SADC Organ on Politics, Defense and Security investigative team to Zambia to report back to the Organ about how its member states can improve the human rights record in Zambia.

Malawi must clarify its position over accepting the forced repatriation of alleged “Malawians” from Zambia, several of these individuals being prominent members of the Zambian opposition who appear arbitrarily to have been stripped of their Zambian nationalities in violation of international standards.

Human Rights Watch/Africa calls on The Commonwealth Secretariat to:

Send a fact-finding mission to Zambia to investigate human rights practices across the country.

Human Rights Watch/Africa calls on The African Commission for Human and Peoples' Rights to:

Send a mission to investigate Zambia's current human rights situation.




International Standards
Print Media
Broadcast Media
Regulatory Body

The Right of Peaceful Assembly
International Standards
The Public Order Act
Harassment of Opposition Political Parties
The “Treason Trial”
The Ill-Treatment of Political Prisoners
Deaths in Disputed Circumstances
The Judiciary, the Legal Profession and NGOs
Playing the “Ethnic Card”

International Standards
National Law
Appropriation of State Resources for the MMD's Electoral Efforts
Abuses by the MMD and UNIP in By-Elections


Letter from the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy National Security Committee

Human Rights Watch      December 1996      Vol. 8, No. 4 (A)

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