The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has finalised its own independent investigations into the death of a Zambia Air Force Officer, Flight Sergeant Mark Choongwa, who died at Woodlands Police Station in Lusaka on 18th March 2017.
The investigations by the Commission revealed different versions by different witnesses that were interviewed on how Flight Sergeant Mark Nchimunya Choongwa met his death at Woodlands Police Station. Given the circumstances under which the death occurred and the various versions by different witnesses that were interviewed, the Commission recommends the following:
(i) Police to give Notice of Mark’s Nchimunya Choongwa’s death to a Coroner to hold an Inquest as provided by the Inquests Act
The Officer-In-Charge of Woodlands Police Station should give notice of Mark’s death (if it has not already been done) to a Coroner to hold an inquest pursuant to the provisions of the Inquests Act Chapter 36 of the Laws of Zambia.
Section 8 of the Inquests Act states that:
“Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, where-
(a) a prisoner; or
(b) a person in the custody of a police officer or detained in custody under a detention order; dies from any cause whatsoever, it shall be the duty of the prison officer having charge of such prisoner or the police officer or other person having charge of such person, as the case may be, to give notice of the death of such prisoner or person to a coroner within whose jurisdiction such death occurred and that coroner shall hold an inquest.”
The holding of an inquest may help to resolve the critical issue of who should be charged with the murder of the late Flight Sergeant Mark Nchimunya Choongwa as provided by Section 28 (1) of the Inquests Act, which provides that:
“The proceedings and evidence at an inquest shall be directed solely to ascertaining the following matters:
(a) who the deceased was;
(b) how, when and where the deceased came by his death;
(c) the persons, if any, to be charged with murder, manslaughter, infanticide, or causing death by the reckless or dangerous driving of a motor vehicle, or of being accessories before the fact should the coroner find that the deceased came to his death by murder, manslaughter, infanticide, or such driving;…”
The Commission further makes the following recommendation:
(ii) Administrative Action be taken against the police officers for using excessive force and unlawfully detaining the late Flight Sergeant Mark Nchimunya Choongwa.
The evidence adduced by all the witnesses clearly showed that the decision to detain the deceased was arbitrary. Further, the manner in which the detention was effected revealed use of excessive force against the late Flight Sergeant Choongwa.
There is therefore need for the police command to take action against excessive use of force and pre-trial detention. Pre-trial detention ought to be used only in deserving cases where a person is a flight risk. Under the circumstances of this case, there was no evidence to show or suggest that the deceased was a flight risk. In the worst case scenario, the police should have perhaps exercised their powers to impound the deceased’s motor vehicle for further traffic offence related procedures later in the morning or another day rather than resorting to use of excessive force and detaining him. The Commission found that the claim that the late flight Choongwa was detained, among other offences, for assaulting a Police Officer to be unconvincing as no witness testified ever seeing any physical engagement between the deceased and the officer who claimed that he was assaulted.
To the contrary, the witnesses recalled that each time the named police officer tried to get hold of the deceased, Mark repeatedly told the officer, “don’t touch me, don’t touch me” while keeping a distance away from the officer.
The Commission is further making the above recommendation because evidence from the witnesses suggested that the decision by the police to detain the deceased under the circumstances contributed to the loss of his life and they must also be held accountable. Worse still, the Commission investigations also revealed that the death of Flight Sergeant Choongwa may have been caused by the “instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official(s)”, in this case being some police officers, which is absolutely prohibited under the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The Commission has made the above recommendations pursuant to Section 13 of the Human Rights Commission Act Chapter 48 of the Laws of Zambia which provides that:
“(1) The Commission shall-
(a) send written reports of its findings to the parties concerned; and
(b) dependant on the findings made, make such recommendation as it considers necessary to the appropriate authority.
(2) The appropriate authority shall, within thirty (30) days from the date of such recommendation make a report to the Commission, on any action taken by such authority to redress any human rights violation. (3) Any person who contravenes the provisions of subsection (2) shall be guilty of an offence, and shall be liable, upon conviction, to a fine not exceeding ten thousand penalty units, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to both.”
It is the desire of the Commission that the rule of law will be adhered to so that justice must not only be done but must also be seen to be done.
[The Human Rights Commission is a National Human Rights Institution established under Article 230 of the Zambian Constitution (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2016 with an overall mandate and obligation of ensuring that the Bill of Rights is upheld and promoted]
Mudford. Z. Mwandenga (Mr)
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION