The Human Rights Commission (HRC/ Commission) is calling for peace and non-discriminatory enforcement of laws regulating public gatherings ahead of the Thursday 12th August 2021 elections.

Everyone has an obligation and responsibility to maintain law and order and to respect human rights in order to create a conducive environment for free expression of the will of the electorate to vote for candidates of their choice.

One of the ways of maintaining law and order is for political parties to adhere to the campaign schedules which they committed themselves to through a consultative process by their respective District Conflict Management Committees (DCMCs) under the auspices of the Electoral Commission of Zambia aimed at preventing inter-party clashes and violence.

Another way is to stop the continued escalating discriminatory enforcement of the Public Order Act (POA) and the COVID 19 Guidelines to the detriment of the rights of opposition candidates.

The Commission is issuing this advisory statement against the background of continued incidences of opposition political parties and their candidates being stopped by the Zambia Police Service from interacting with the electorate in some parts of the country while the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and its candidates is freely campaigning.

The growing pattern of opposition parties and candidates being deprived of an opportunity to campaign on the same basis with PF has potential to undermine the integrity of the electoral process and must be stopped during the remaining campaign period.

For instance, the United Party for National Development (UPND) president, Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, was literally “detained” by police for almost two hours at Chapala Airport run way on 30th July 2021 in Eastern Province in an attempt to block him from accessing the electorate.

He was also temporarily blocked from entering Mpika, Isoka, Nakonde and Mbala Districts in Muchinga and Northern Provinces on 3rd August 2021.

The Commission calls for compliance with the international and regional human rights law and the provisions of the Constitution of Zambia prohibiting any form of discrimination.

In particular, the Commission calls for respect for the advice of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights to all the African Union (AU) member countries that are holding elections under the COVID 19 pandemic, Zambia included, through the Pan African Lawyers Union, issued on 16th July 2021, that:
“…measures restricting rights must not be discriminatory. That is, a State should seek to ensure that…measures taken do not, in practice, create an advantage for one party, notably, the incumbent governing parties or candidates, to the detriment of other candidates or parties”.

Holding of free and fair elections is a fundamental human right to participate in one’s government and Zambia being a member of the United Nations (UN) and the AU must take all the necessary measures to ensure that the free will of the electorate to vote for candidates of their choice is upheld in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments and national laws.

International human rights law provides, inter alia, that restrictions or derogations to the enjoyment of a human right must serve a legitimate purpose, must not undermine the essential content of the right and must be non-discriminatory.

Therefore, if the legitimate purpose of restricting public gatherings is to prevent the spread of COVID 19, the restriction should apply across all political parties and candidates on the same basis.

On the other hand, if the purpose is to maintain law and order, the restrictions should be non-discriminatory and must not be detrimental to the rights of other parties candidates while the ruling party and its candidates have heightened political campaigns without any restriction.

One of the benchmarks of a free and fair election is unfettered competition among contesting political parties and candidates, which is regrettably being suppressed during the election campaign period.

The suppression of the rights of opposition political candidates must end because it is a violation of human rights and fueling political tension and violence.

The Commission wishes to stress the obligation and responsibility of everyone to maintain law and order and to respect human rights before, during and after the 12th August 2021 elections.

Mweelwa Muleya

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The mission of the Human Rights Commission is to promote and protect human rights for all people in Zambia through investigations of human rights violations, rehabilitation of victims of human rights abuses, education of communities and advocacy for policy and legal changes influenced by evidence based research

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