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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Zambia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Zambia, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Zambia is a republic governed by a president, a unicameral national assembly, and a constitutionally independent judiciary. After two decades of one-party rule, free and fair multiparty elections in October 1991 resulted in the victory of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and the election of President Frederick J.T. Chiluba, a former trade unionist. In addition to the former ruling party, the United National Independence Party (UNIP), approximately 40 opposition parties were active to varying degrees.

The police, divided into regular and paramilitary units, operating under the Ministry of Home Affairs, have primary responsibility for maintaining law and order. The Zambia Intelligence Security Service, under the office of the president, is responsible for intelligence and internal security. The police continued to commit numerous serious abuses.

During 1995 the Chiluba Government continued its free market economic reform program. However, changes in economic policy early in the year led to reversals on inflation, currency stabilization, and real interest rates. New taxes were required to get back on track. Allegations of high-level corruption in the Government continued. Poor rains during the 1994-95 growing season resulted in a reduced harvest of maize, the staple food, and renewed appeals to donors. Although the key copper industry benefitted from increased world prices, production continued to fall, resulting in a significant loss of income. Successful privatization in other industries has created some jobs.

The Government continued to take steps to address one of the most serious human rights problems, police brutality. Throughout the year the government-appointed Human Rights Commission aggressively pursued allegations of past and present human rights abuses and kept public attention focused on incidents of police wrongdoing. Nevertheless, by year's end much remained to be done to restore professionalism and discipline to the police force. Despite reform efforts begun in 1994, including human rights training and punishment of some offenders, the police continued to commit abuses, including beatings and extrajudicial killing of criminal suspects and detainees.

The Government generally respected Zambians' civil liberties but as the year ended, a number of actions raised doubts about its commitment to an open and fair electoral process in the period before the October 1996 national elections. These actions included acceptance of clauses in the draft constitution, presented to President Chiluba in June, that would bar former President Kenneth Kaunda from running for president, public statements by Government leaders threatening

Kaunda with deportation, and delays in updating voter registration rolls. The delays led to the indefinite postponment of nationwide local government elections originally scheduled for November. In addition, although the press publishes freely, the Government has persisted in attempts to limit freedom of the press. Prison conditions deteriorated further, posing an increased threat to the health and lives of inmates, and women continued to experience discrimination in both law and fact. Wife beating and rape remained widespread.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings during the year, but police continued to use excessive force that often resulted in extrajudicial killings. According to reliable press reports, almost all based on statements by police spokesmen, police killed approximately 17 criminal suspects during the year. Most of these killings allegedly occurred when police attempted to apprehend suspects during the commission of crimes.

In December army recruits at a training facility north of Kapiri Mposhi attacked several villages in retaliation for the death of one of their fellow recruits at the hands of three villagers. They killed 2 civilians and left 1,000 temporarily homeless. The Government provided some financial compensation and the Ministry of Defense promised to investigate and take appropriate action. At year's end, however, no action had been taken against the soldiers who attacked the villages.

Throughout the year, government officials, nongovernmental organizations (NGO's), and the press closely scrutinized police involvement in human rights abuses, criminal activity, and corruption. Francis Ndhlovu, Inspector General of Police, continued to exercise his mandate to reform the force. Ndhlovu instituted a variety of measures designed to restore discipline, professionalism, and respect for human rights, including police training in respect for human rights. Ndhlovu cooperated with the Human Rights Commission by making police officers available to testify. He also undertook investigations of instances of police use of excessive force, disciplining officers who committed human rights abuses. According to statistics made available by Inspector General Ndhlovu, at least 15 police officers were the subjects of internal investigations or prosecutions between January and September. Further, according to press reports, the authorities arrested at least 10 police officers between January 1 and September 15 on such criminal charges as robbery and possession of illegal narcotics. One officer has been convicted for an assault on a Member of Parliament.

The Human Rights Commission, chaired by prominent attorney Bruce Munyama, aggressively examined police human rights abuses in public hearings held in the first half of the year. These hearings not only brought to light numerous abuses, but they also forced police officers to account for their behavior in sworn testimony. In September the Commission submitted its final report to the President, including recommendations to improve the human rights performance of the police. The report is expected to be published in the near future.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the 1991 Constitution prohibits torture, police regularly used excessive force when apprehending, interrogating, and detaining criminal suspects or illegal aliens. In most such instances, detaining officers beat suspects. During the year, the Human Rights Commission heard testimony from numerous credible witnesses who said that police had assaulted and beaten them. The Government took no action to discipline police officers for past incidents of abuse or torture.

Deteriorating prison conditions posed an increasing threat to prisoners' lives. According to official statistics, prisons designed to hold 6,500 prisoners held over 12,000. This severe overcrowding, combined with poor sanitation, inadequate medical facilities, meager food supplies, and lack of potable water resulted in serious outbreaks of dysentery and other diseases at various prisons throughout the year. The press reported that on numerous occasions, prisons ran out of food and prisoners were fed only coarse hominy and salt.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Criminal suspects are often arrested on the basis of flimsy evidence or an uncorroborated accusation. In these and other criminal cases, the law requires that a detainee be charged and brought before a magistrate within 24 hours. Pretrial detainees are allowed access by attorneys and family members. In practice, the authorities hold most detainees for more than 1 month from the time of arrest to first appearance before a magistrate. In many cases, an additional period of 6 months elapses before the magistrate commits the defendant to the High Court for trial. Following committal, preparation of the magistrate court record for transmittal to the High Court takes months--in some cases as long as a year. Once a case reaches the High Court for trial, court proceedings last an average of 6 months.

Approximately 3,000 of the 12,000 prisoners are awaiting trial on criminal charges. In a few cases, defendants have been awaiting trial for 10 years. These long delays are the result of inadequate resources, inefficiency, lack of trained personnel, and broad rules of procedure that give wide latitude to prosecutors and defense attorneys to request adjournments. Although there is a functioning bail system, overcrowded prisons reflect the large number of detainees who have committed serious offenses for which bail is not granted. These include murder, aggravated robbery, and since 1993, violations of the narcotics laws. Also, poor or indigent detainees rarely have the financial means to post bail. The government legal aid office is responsible for providing legal representation to poor or indigent detainees and defendants in criminal or civil cases. In practice, few receive assistance. In 1995 the office had 15 attorneys to cover the entire country and a budget of $110,000.

According to well-informed sources, police stations frequently become "debt collection centers," where police officers, acting upon an unofficial complaint, will detain a debtor without charge indefinitely until he or she pays the complainant. In return, the police receive a percentage of the payment. This situation is commonplace among police stations in Copperbelt province.

The authorities held approximately 550 foreigners, principally from neighboring countries, as illegal aliens until they could deport them. At times, these detentions last months or years. In the past the Government has not used exile for political purposes. In October, however, government leaders publicly questioned the citizenship of former President Kaunda and said that he could be liable to deportation. The Government backpedalled when a police summons to Kaunda to appear for questioning sparked disturbances in Lusaka. At year's end, the Government had not again broached the question of Kaunda's nationality. However, the case surrounding the 1994 deportation of John Chinula, a member of the Central Committee of UNIP, continued in the courts. Minister of Home Affairs Chitalu Sampa said that Chinula had been determined by the Government to have been a "prohibited immigrant" who entered Zambia illegally from Malawi, where the Government alleged he was born. Legal and human rights groups continued to protest the deportation, asserting--along with Chinula--that Chinula had been born in Zambia and that his deportation was a denial of due process. In September the Lusaka High Court refused to grant habeas corpus to Chinula, stating that he was in fact a citizen of Malawi, and therefore had no right to bring a case in a Zambian court following his deportation to his native country. Chinula's longstanding ties to Zambia and his prominence as a politician raised questions about the Government's motives in deporting him.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government respects the independence of the judiciary in practice. The President nominates and the National Assembly confirms the Chief Justice and the other eight members of the Supreme Court. The Court has appellate jurisdiction for all legal and constitutional disputes. Several high courts have authority to hear criminal and civil cases and appeals from lower courts. Magistrate courts have original jurisdiction in some criminal and civil cases, while local, or customary, courts handle most civil cases at the local level.

Local courts employ the principles of customary law, which vary widely throughout the country. Lawyers are barred from participating, and there are few formal rules of procedure. Presiding judges, who are usually prominent local citizens, have great power to invoke customary law in rendering judgments regarding weddings, divorces, inheritances, other civil proceedings, and minor criminal matters. Judgments are often not in accordance with the Penal Code; for example, they tend to discriminate against women in matters of inheritance (see Section 5).

Trials in magistrate courts are public, and defendants have the opportunity to confront accusers and present witnesses.

Proceedings against all but two of the UNIP members detained in connection with the 1993 state of emergency have been concluded, and none of the detainees are currently in custody. Regarding the two outstanding cases, Bwendo Mulengela was found guilty of conspiring against the state and sentenced to a short prison term. He is free on bond pending the outcome of his appeal. Kenneth Kuanda's son Wezi was released on bond pending a final ruling in his case.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides for respect for privacy and the inviolability of the home, and the authorities generally respected these rights in practice.

Except during a state of emergency, the law requires a warrant before police may enter a home. Roundups of suspected illegal aliens in the home or workplace continued. According to the government Commissioner for Refugees, immigration officials are empowered under the law to conduct these roundups without a warrant.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the Constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the press, the Penal Code lists various prohibited activities that may be broadly interpreted and in effect restrict freedom of expression and the press. By year's end, no action had been taken on media reform proposals to revise many of these archaic penal code provisions. The Government generally respected freedom of expression, but invoked these restrictive laws--for example, prohibiting defamation of the President--in selected cases. The Government or its appointed officials filed numerous libel and defamation suits against the independent biweekly newspaper, The Post, in response to a series of headlines and articles focusing on issues of corruption and controversial government policies. In June the Government attempted to use extralegal means to deny The Post access to a parastatal printing facility, but quickly abandoned its effort under public pressure.

Zambian law includes provisions for investigative tribunals to call as witnesses journalists and media managers who print allegations of parliamentary misconduct. Failure to cooperate with the tribunal may result in charges of contempt punishable by up to 6 months. This is seen by the media as a clear infringement on press freedom and a means for parliamentarians to bypass the clogged court system in dealing with libel suits against the media. The Press Association of Zambia has its own media ethics code and a voluntary industry ethics board.

The Government owns the two most widely circulated newspapers, as well as the sole television station, ZNBC. In addition to the Government-controlled radio station, one Christian missionary affiliated station operated in Zambia. A number of independent newspapers actively question government actions and policies and circulate without government interference. In August ZNBC, and MNET, a South African company, together launched a subscriber television service. It rebroadcasts the British Broadcasting Corporation's World News but provides no local news reporting. The Government exercises considerable influence over the government-owned media, which to an increasing degree have followed the government line on important issues.

The Government took no action to restrain academic freedom during the year.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association. In practice, the Government generally respected these provisions, but as the year unfolded it demonstrated increased readiness to use the Public Order Act of 1955 to prohibit selected political assemblies. Under this Act, persons or organizations wishing to hold an assembly, public meeting, or procession must first apply for a permit. The Government routinely granted these permits to political parties and nonpolitical organizations, but it twice denied permits to former President Kaunda, arresting him in both cases for illegal assembly. Court proceedings in these cases had not concluded by year's end. In October the Government revoked permission for NGO's and church leaders to march in protest of the Government's rejection of several recommendations of the Constitutional Review Commission, and a number of NGO and church leaders were briefly detained. All organizations must apply formally for registration to the Registrar of Societies. In most cases the authorities routinely approved these applications.

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is provided for in the Constitution. The Government respects this right in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to move freely throughout Zambia, to reside in any part of the country, and to depart and return to the country without restriction. The authorities generally respected these rights, but police roadblocks to control criminal activity continued, and police sometimes extorted money and goods from motorists.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that there were approximately 113,000 refugees, mainly Angolans, in Zambia in 1995. The Government cooperated with the UNHCR in processing applications for refugee status.

A steady trickle of Zairians continued to cross into Zambia during the year. In response to alleged criminal activities of many Zairians in the border region, the Government rounded up, arrested, and deported many Zairians and other illegal aliens throughout the year. The deportation of illegal aliens is lawful, but Zairians and others who had been accorded refugee status by the UNHCR were sometimes detained and held for varying lengths of time before being released. In several cases, the Government deported refugees who were registered with the UNHCR.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens exercised the right to change their government in free and fair multiparty elections in 1991, following years of one-party rule by UNIP. Elections for President and the National Assembly are scheduled for 1996. The ruling MMD controls the National Assembly.

Under the 1991 Constitution the President wields broad authority. Although the National Assembly ratifies major appointments and has other powers, in practice it continued during 1995 to provide only a limited check on executive authority.

The pace of constitutional reform increased during the year as the 24-member Constitutional Review Commission completed its work and delivered a draft constitution to the President in June. The draft contained controversial clauses that would bar former President Kaunda from running for the presidency in 1996. One clause required a candidate's parents to have been born in Zambia; Kaunda's parents were born during the colonial era in what would later become Malawi. In September the Government issued a White Paper that approved this recommendation. The White Paper also proposed that the amendments to the constitution be approved by the National Assembly, in which the ruling MMD enjoyed a large majority, rather than by a constituent assembly or by referendum. Amid the public debate that ensued, opposition parties strongly criticized both recommendations.

Although the MMD continued to be the dominant political force, UNIP showed strength in a number of by-elections following the return of former President Kaunda to its leadership. The National Party, formed in 1993, struggled to remain a viable party, but experienced serious setbacks including defections to the ruling MMD of some of its leading members. The opposition accused the MMD of using political intimidation and economic reprisals in an effort to create a de facto one-party state.

During the year, there were approximately 40 political parties in operation. Several contested national assembly by-elections. These elections generally featured a low turnout of registered voters, and while the MMD's use of government resources--including the state-owned media--during campaigns probably did not affect their outcomes, their fairness was put into question. The urgent need for updated voter registration rolls (last done in 1987) and the Government's failure to implement a transparent, effective registration project raised doubts about the Government's willingness to have an open electoral process. Lack of a new voter register led the Government to postpone indefinitely nationwide local government elections scheduled for November.

The number of women in politics and government is increasing, but the total remains small. Some women now serve as cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, members of the National Assembly, and ministerial permanent secretaries. Women are also represented among elected local government officials and leaders of nongovernmental organizations in greater number.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of human rights and civic organizations operated without government hindrance. These include the Law Association of Zambia, the Foundation for Democratic Process, and the Zambia Civic Education Association (ZCEA). Other groups were active in promoting women's civil and political rights. The government-appointed Human Rights Commission operated throughout the year and, as previously noted, was a vigorous human rights advocate. In general, the Government continued to be receptive to criticism from human rights and civic organizations, but on occasion, government officials, including the Home Affairs Minister, accused human rights monitors of abetting crime and thwarting the work of the police through their focus on the victims of police brutality.

Although a dispute over course content had disrupted human rights training in 1994, the ZCEA and police agreed to resume the training in early 1995 at the police training academy. Police officers regularly appeared before the Human Rights Commission. The Government was receptive to inquiries and visits by international human rights organizations.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, tribe, sex, place of origin, marital status, political opinion, color, or creed; however, the Government does not effectively enforce the prohibition against discrimination based on sex.


Violence against women remained a serious problem. Wife beating and rape were commonplace. According to official statistics, over 2,500 rape cases were reported to the police between 1990 and 1995. Of these, approximately 30 percent resulted in conviction and 5 percent in acquittal. The remainder were either dismissed or remain unresolved. Defendants convicted of rape normally were sentenced to prison at hard labor. Since many rapes are not reported to the police, the actual number is considered much higher. Domestic assault is a criminal offense, but in practice police are often reluctant to pursue reports of wife beating, preferring to broker a reconciliation. The Government and NGO's expressed increasing concern about violence against women, and the media devoted considerable publicity to it during the year.

Both the Constitution and law entitle women to full equality with men in most areas. In practice, however, women are severely disadvantaged compared to men in formal employment and education. Married women who are employed often suffer from discriminatory conditions of service. For example, allowances for housing and children and tax rebates to which they as employees are entitled often accrue to their husbands. Similarly, women have little independent access to credit facilities; in most cases, they remain dependent on husbands, who are required to sign for loans. As a result, few women own their own homes.

Customary law and practice also place women in subordinate status with respect to property, inheritance, and marriage, despite various constitutional and legislative provisions. Under traditional customs prevalent in most ethnic groups, all rights to inherit property rest with the deceased man's family. The 1989 Intestate Succession Act is designed to guarantee women a share of the joint estate. Under this Act, the children of a deceased man share equally 50 percent; the widow receives 20 percent; the parents, 20 percent; and relatives, 10 percent. In practice, "property grabbing" by the relatives of the deceased man continues to be rampant, particularly when local customary courts have jurisdiction. These courts often use a different law, the Local Courts Act, to distribute inheritances without reference to the percentages mandated in the Succession Act. As a result, many widows receive little or nothing from the estate. Fines mandated by the Succession Act for property grabbing are extraordinarily low. The Ministry of Legal Affairs and NGO's promised to amend the law to safeguard the rights of women more effectively and to increase the penalties for violations. By year's end, however, an amended Succession Act had not yet been introduced in the National Assembly.


The Government seeks to improve the welfare of children, but scarce resources and ineffective implementation of social programs adversely affected the welfare of children and adults alike. Due to harsh economic conditions, both rural and urban children often must work in the informal sector to help families make ends meet (see Section 6.d.). There was no pattern of discrimination or societal abuse against children.

People with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities face significant societal discrimination in employment and education. The Government took steps to ameliorate their hardship, including the establishment of a national trust fund to provide loans to the disabled to help them start businesses. The Government has not legislated or otherwise mandated accessibility to public buildings and services for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the right of citizens to form trade unions, and approximately 60 percent of the 300,000 formal sector workers are unionized. Most of the country's national unions, organized by industry or profession, are affiliated with the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). The ZCTU is democratically operated and, like its constituent unions, is independent of any political party and the Government. By a majority vote of its members, a union may decide on affiliation with the ZCTU or with trade unions or organizations outside Zambia. The ZCTU is a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Labor leaders travel without restriction to international conferences and to visit counterparts abroad. The Mine Workers Union of Zambia and a number of other ZCTU constituent unions broke from the ZCTU and established a rival umbrella organization.

The 1993 Industrial and Labor Relations Act (ILRA) reestablished the "one industry, one union" principle, but in April Labor Minister Newstead Zimba announced that the Government had ratified International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association, requiring the abolition of the one industry, one union principle and paving the way for the free registration of trade unions in Zambia. By year's end, however, the National Assembly had not yet passed the required implementing amendments to the ILRA. As a result, the legal status of the new labor umbrella organization and a number of new unions remained uncertain.

All workers have the right to strike, except those engaged in essential services, the Zambia Defense Force, the judiciary, the police, the prison service, and the intelligence security service. The ILRA defines essential services as power, medical, water, sewerage, firefighting, and certain mining occupations essential to safety. It permits strikes only after all other legal recourse has been exhausted, and in practice all work stoppages during the year were illegal. The ILRA prohibits employers from retribution against employees engaged in legal trade union activities. Workers engaged in illegal strikes do not enjoy this protection, and there were at least two instances in 1994 when employers fired workers engaged in illegal strikes.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to bargain collectively is established by legislation and is contained in the ILRA. Employers and unions in each industry negotiate collective bargaining agreements through joint councils in which there is no government involvement. In practice, the industry joint councils function effectively as collective bargaining units. Civil servants and teachers, as public officials, negotiate directly with the Government. Collective disputes are first referred to a conciliator or a board of conciliation. If conciliation fails to resolve the dispute, the parties may refer the case to the Industrial Relations Court or, in the case of employees, vote to strike. In practice, legal strikes under the ILRA are rare. The ILRA prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers against union members and organizers. An employee who believes he or she has been penalized for union activities may, after exhausting any existing administrative channels for relief, file a complaint with the Industrial Relations Court. This Court has the power to order appropriate redress for the aggrieved worker. The complainant may appeal a judgment of the Industrial Relations Court to the Supreme Court. In practice, the Court often orders employers to reinstate workers found to have been the victims of discrimination.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude, but it authorizes citizens to be called upon to perform labor in specific instances, for example, during national emergencies or disasters. Moreover, a citizen can be required to perform labor that is associated with traditional civic or communal obligations, as when all members of a village are called upon to assist in preparing for a visit by a traditional leader or other dignitary.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

By legislation, the minimum age for employment of children is 16 years. The Labor Commissioner effectively enforces this law in the industrial sector, in which, because of the high demand for employment by adults, there are no jobs available to children. The law is not enforced, however, for those who work in the subsistence agricultural, domestic service, and informal sectors, where persons under age 16 are often employed. In urban areas children commonly engage in street vending.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for nonunionized workers is set at $0.08 (70.30 kwacha) per hour. The minimum wage applies to nonunionized workers in categories such as general workers, cleaners, office orderlies, and watchmen. The minimum wage is insufficient to provide an adequate standard of living, and most minimum wage earners must supplement their incomes through second jobs, subsistence farming, or reliance on the extended family.

With respect to unionized workers, each industry sets its own wage scales and maximum workweek limits through collective bargaining. In practice, almost all unionized workers receive salaries considerably higher than the nonunion minimum wage. The minimum workweek for full-time employment is 40 hours and is, in practice, the normal workweek. The law requires 2 days of annual leave per month of service.

The law also regulates minimum health and safety standards in industry, and the Department of Mines is responsible for enforcement. Factory safety is handled by the Inspector of Factories under the Minister of Labor, but staffing problems chronically limit enforcement effectiveness. There are no legislative provisions to protect a worker who refuses to work on safety grounds.

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