Human Rights Watch called for Zambia's donors to continue to attach clear human rights benchmarks for the release of payments support, in light of the Zambian government's continued human rights violations.
Balance of payments support was suspended by a number of governments in 1996 because of human rights abuses committed by the Zambian government. Since then, balance of payments support has been tied to a number of conditions, including human rights. On May 27-28, 1999, the Consultative Group will discuss what types of conditions should remain.
"We expected improvements in the government's rights record since last May's consultative group meeting," said Peter Takirambudde, the executive director for Africa at Human Rights Watch. "Instead, there is a growing pattern of harassment against the independent media and the opposition."
In a sixteen-page memorandum presented to donors today, Human Rights Watch documents the government's crackdown on the independent media and the opposition. At the end of the last Consultative Group meeting in May 1998, the head of the Zambian government delegation, Edith Nawakwi, Minister of Finance and Economic Development, stated that "the government wants a clean and good human rights record. We are a leader in the liberation struggles of southern Africa. We want to be a leader on human rights."
Human Rights Watch's research in Zambia since the last Consultative Group meeting has shown that despite the Minister's fine words, Zambia is far from being a ‘leader of human rights.' In March 1999, the Zambian government moved against the independent Post newspaper, charging twelve journalists with espionage in an effort to suppress legitimate debate on a matter of public interest, the crisis in bilateral relations with Angola. Opposition political parties have also come under intense government scrutiny. The government uses bureaucratic obstacles to inhibit opposition campaigns, and uses the Zambia Revenue Authority to intimidate opposition leaders and supporters.
Former President of Zambia and opposition United National Independence Party (UNIP) leader Kenneth Kaunda has also been harassed. On March 31, 1999 Kaunda found his nationality questioned in a court judgment on a petition filed by ruling party supporters. Government officials in their efforts to undermine, intimidate and silence the opposition have also increasingly questioned the ethnic origins of their critics, as a way of possibly denying them citizenship. The nationality of many of these individuals had been recognized without challenge from the inception of the Zambian state in 1964 until the current government identified them as opposition.
Kaunda's car was also shot at and damaged on March 31, 1999 by an unidentified gunman outside his residence in Lusaka. Human Rights Watch has examined the car and the scene of the incident and is in no doubt that an assault rifle was used and that several shots were fired. A police inquiry into this shooting has not made its findings public.
"We too want to see Zambia as a leader in Africa on human rights," said Takirambudde. "But this needs positive actions, not nice words, followed by misdeeds."