Human Rights Watch today welcomes yesterday's release of the former president of Zambia from detention, yet calls on the Zambian government to take further steps to show a commitment to human rights protection.

The state dropped all charges against ex-president Kenneth Kaunda, who had been held under suspicion of treason in connection with a coup attempt against President Frederick Chiluba on October 28, 1997. Mr. Kaunda had been in detention since his arrest on December 25, 1997.

"The release of Kaunda is a positive development, but only a first step toward establishing respect for human rights in Zambia," said Peter Takirambudde, Human Rights Watch's executive director for Africa. "This is not enough to ensure that the government will protect basic rights, as dozens of other political detainees remain in jail. The international community should remain cautious, and Zambia's donors must continue to link aid to demonstrable improvements in rights protection."

At a meeting in Paris on May 12-13, Zambia's bilateral and multilateral donors, joined as the World Bank Consultative Group on Zambia, agreed to condition further aid on reforms in the areas of human rights, democracy and governance. Human Rights Watch applauds this measure, as well as the role of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in pushing for such reforms.

Human Rights Watch calls on the Zambian government to take the following steps toward improving its protection of human rights:

  • Make public the findings of its investigations of allegations that detainees have been tortured by police and ensure that any officials responsible for such actions are suspended from office and brought to justice;
  • Support an independent inquiry into the Kabwe shooting, in which Kaunda, an aide and Rodger Chongwe, another opposition leader, were injured, and publish the results;
  • Investigate allegations of police ill-treatment of those in detention;
  • Make those responsible for human rights abuses accountable before the law;
  • Respect freedom of expression;
  • Respect freedom of assembly;
  • Respect freedom of association;
  • Recognize the rights of human rights defenders in Zambia to monitor, investigate, and speak out on human rights concerns.