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Protectors or Pretenders? - Government Human Rights Commissions in Africa, HRW Report 2001




International Standards: The Paris Principles

Important Factors

Examining the Record in Africa

Innovative and Positive Contributions by Commissions

Regional Iniatives

The Role Of The International Community





Staffing and Appointment Procedures

    The commission consists of a chair, who was a High Court judge (later promoted to the Supreme Court), and five other commissioners, appointed by the president. The presidential appointments are ratified by parliament. The tenure of office is three years, which is renewable, subject to presidential and parliamentary approval. The first commissioners were appointed for periods ranging between one and three years, in order to facilitate retirement by rotation. The law establishing the Human Rights Commission requires that the chair of the commission be a person who has held or is qualified to hold high judicial office. The commissioners are all full time and are appointed on government conditions. Apart from the chair, whose security of tenure is guaranteed by virtue of the fact that she is a Supreme Court judge, others commissioners have no security of tenure.

    In 1997, the president appointed the commission members quickly, most of whom lack robust human rights credentials, and parliament approved them in one day. Many of the nominees were approached by a letter or phone call from the president several days before their appointment with little time for briefing. The select parliamentary committee that ratified the appointments had no human rights background, and according to individuals who attended the hearings, few questions related to human rights were asked. Despite an invitation to do so, all the main opposition parties refused to nominate candidates for the commission because of their reservations as to whether the Human Rights Commission would be truly autonomous.

    The commissioners come from diverse backgrounds. Justice Lombe Chibesakunda, the chair, was Ndola High Court Judge and in 1998 was promoted to the Supreme Court. Her track record on the bench has been above average. As a result of her distinguished work as a judge, there are perhaps overly high expectations of what she can achieve as the chair of the Human Rights Commission, given its limited mandate and inadequate resources. Foston Sakala is a clergy man who was a principal of seminary in the Dutch Reformed Church. Lavu Mulimba is a retired and long serving parliamentarian. John Sakulanda is a former detainee who also served in the Munyama Commission. Lewis Changufu is one of the early ministers in UNIP and served under former president Kenneth Kaunda. Francis Nsokolo is a former magistrate who presided over the abortive black mamba treason trial of 1996.107 Apart from commissioners Sakulanda and Sakala, who have been involved in some peripheral human rights work, the others did not have human rights experience at the time of their appointment.

    At the outset, a concern by the human rights community and the political opposition was that most of the commissioners had no human rights credentials or records of commitment to human rights. Of greater concern was that as presidential appointees, the new commissioners may not have the authority to assert their independence from the government.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2001

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