The Human Rights Commission is calling for total eradication of all forms of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of individuals as the world commemorates the international day in Support of the Victims of Torture which falls every year on 26th June.
As the United Nations (UN) General Secretary António Guterres has stated, "Torture remains unacceptable and unjustified at all times, including during states of emergency, political instability, or even in a war. On this day, let us also pay tribute to all those who stand in solidarity with victims and their families – and reaffirm our commitment to ending this abominable and useless practice."
As the world commemorates the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the Commission is calling upon everyone to remember and/or support those who have been tortured, lost lives or limbs or nursing injuries as a result of torture and those who may still be undergoing various forms of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in various detention and correctional facilities.
The International Day in support of victims of torture was declared on 12th December in 1997 by the UN General Assembly with a view of rallying the international community and everyone everywhere to eradicate all acts of torture. This day is also aimed at reminding State Parties of their obligation to ensure that the UN Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (UNCAT) that was adopted in 1984 is effectively implemented.
Zambia ratified the UNCAT in 1998 but she has not yet domesticated it by way of enacting a national law criminalizing torture. Article 4 of the stated Convention provides that each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law.
The Commission is hopeful that Zambia will criminalise torture by enacting a law to that effect so that perpetrators and victims of torture will begin to receive appropriate punishment and remedies through the courts of law. It should also be noted that Zambia accepted the recommendation made by nine countries during the Universal Periodic Review process at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in November 2017 that Zambia should end all acts of torture and enact a law criminalizing torture.
It is sad to note that even if Article 15 of Zambia’s Bill of Rights absolutely prohibits torture and other like ill-treatment, this particular constitutional prohibitions cannot be invoked in Zambia’s courts of law because there is no national enabling legislation which defines torture and prescribes penalties in line with the criminal justice system.
The announcement by the Government in December 2017, that Cabinet had in principle adopted the Bill Criminalising Torture in Zambia was a landmark development. It should however be stated that the nation and the international community are anxiously looking forward to the government tabling in Parliament the draft Bill criminalizing torture in Zambia for enactment into law. The enactment of the law criminalizing torture will give legal effect to the constitutional provision against torture and result into the domestication of the UNCAT, thereby enabling Zambia to meet both her national and international human rights obligation towards taking appropriate and effective measures against acts of torture.
It is extremely saddening that despite torture being absolutely prohibited under international law as well as under Article 15 of Zambia’s Bill of Rights, some law enforcement officers habitually engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, including torture, to extract confessions from suspects.
The Commission wishes to remind law enforcement officers that it is not a defence to argue that one was just following orders from superiors for acts of torture. Torture is a crime against humanity and its absolute prohibition has become part of customary international law.
The practices of torturing and humiliating suspects which sometimes begin at a point of apprehending or arresting a suspect and continue during the course of interrogations at Police Station and/or other detention or correction facilities must stop.
The Commission will continue to advocate for enactment of the law criminalizing torture and for building of capacity of law enforcement officers by training them in modern investigations skills and providing them with modern equipment, tools and facilities to enable them carry out their work without recording to acts of torture. Further, the Commission will continue its public outreach activities aimed at promoting behavioural change against acts of torture in order to protect the inherent rights and dignity of individuals .
The Human Rights Commission is a National Human Rights Institution established under Article 230 of the 1991 Zambian Constitution as amended by Act Number 2 of 2016 to, among other human rights functions, ensure that the Bill of Rights is upheld and promoted.
Chief of Information, Education and Training
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION