Zambia is a signatory to major UN and regional treaties protecting human rights. Although by ratifying international conventions Zambia has an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of all citizens, the provisions of these treaties are not locally effective if not incorporated into the domestic legislation.
The Bill of Rights embodied in Part III of the current Zambian Constitution provides for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. However, the rights pertaining to the improvement of the welfare of the citizenry such as education, health, housing, employment and social security are not placed in the Bill of Rights even though economic, social and cultural rights have been recognized to be important in the realization of political and civil rights. These rights are placed under Part IX of the Constitution, which deals with Directive Principles of State Policy, and may be may be attained in as far as State resources permit.
The challenge to progressively realize economic, social and cultural rights in accordance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCRs) which Zambia has ratified is actually enormous for a developing country like Zambia with inadequate resources to provide enough schools, hospitals, social security, decent shelter and clean water to the majority of the population.
Protection of human Rights
In Zambia, there are a number of institutions established to promote and protect human rights. The major institutions promoting and protecting human rights, directly or indirectly, are:
The Human Rights Commission established in 1997 in accordance with the Paris Principles. It is mandated, inter alia, to investigate human rights violations and maladministration of justice, and propose measures to prevent human rights abuses.
The Judiciary is the primary institution charged with the protection of human rights through enforcing the Bill of Rights entrenched in the National Constitution. Anyone who feels that his or her human rights have been or are about to be violated can seek redress through the High Court which enforces the Bill of Rights.
The National Assembly, which consists of elected and nominated Members of Parliament, carries out a wide range of important public responsibilities that enhance democratic governance in Zambia. These responsibilities include making laws (Acts of Parliament), approving proposals for taxation and public expenditure, and keeping the work of the Government under scrutiny and review.
The Judicial Complaints Authority receives and investigates allegations of misconduct against judicial officers. In their adjudicative duties, officers are expected to conduct themselves with integrity, independence and impartiality in accordance with the Judicial Code of Conduct.
The Police Public Complaints Authority, established in 2002, addresses public complaints against police misconduct in order to protect the rights of citizens. It has been reported that a number of officers found to be violating or abusing human rights have been dismissed from Police Service as a result of the work of the Authority.
The Zambia Police Service - Despite being charged with the responsibility to ensure protection of human rights, the Police Service is often a major violator of human rights. Some of the worst human rights abuses such as torture and extra-judicial killing of suspects have been committed by police officers, and these have been widely condemned by human rights defenders. Other common human rights abuses by the officers include false arrests, illegal and over detention without trial. However, within Police Service, a Victim Support Unit exists in almost all parts of the country to deal with violations of human rights, especially of women and children.
The Commission for Investigations – is empowered to investigate complaints of mal-administrative actions by pubic authorities brought to its attention. It can also recommend corrective action to the affected agencies and obtain redress for a deserving complainant.
The Legal Aid Board – Article 18 (1) 9d) of the current Constitution provides that every person charged with a criminal offence “shall unless legal aid is granted to him [or her] in accordance with the law enacted by Parliament for such purpose be permitted to defend himself [or herself] before the court in person, or at his [or her] own expense, by a legal representative of his [or her] own choice.” It is for this purpose that the Legal Aid Board was established in 2002, to provide free legal assistance especially to the poor and vulnerable women and children who come in conflict with the law.