Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Zambia

Political context

On August 31, 2007, the law establishing the National Constitution Conference, demanded by the opposition and numerous civil society organisations, was submitted to Parliament and adopted by President Mwanawasa. This enabled the setting up, in December 2007, of the Constitution Review Commission, composed of 462 members and scheduled to sit for twelve months. However, several opposition parties, trade unions, churches and associations, in particular women's associations, refused to participate, denouncing the takeover of the process by those in power, under the leadership of President Mwanawasa and his party – the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy – and also the indemnities allocated to each participant, 250 US dollars per day, in a country where most of population lives on less than one dollar per day.

Furthermore, as noted by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in its concluding remarks in July 2007, defamation of the President and publication of false information are still considered as crimes, and not as offences in the Criminal Code.1 Journalists continue to be arrested and prosecuted under such provisions for publishing articles denouncing human rights violations by the Government. The same application of repressive legislation could well befall human rights defenders.

Freedom of association threatened by a bill on NGOs

In 2007, defenders were heavily mobilised against a new bill submitted to Parliament on July 17, 2007 by the Minister for Justice, with the announced aim of making the organisations more transparent. Not having been consulted during the preparation of the bill, the civil society organisations denounced the new legislation as being a manoeuvre by the State to silence them, and to erode the role of civil society.

The latter is indeed regularly accused of engaging in political activities under cover of human rights. The introduction of the law might be linked to the National Constitution Conference, and designed to silence the NGOs which were reluctant to be involved in the process.2

Several provisions of the bill reveal the intention to control NGOs. For instance, the text institutes "the registration and coordination of NGOs" (including international NGOs with offices in Zambia), and empowers the Minister of the Interior to set up a committee composed of 10 members of the Government and two representatives of the civil society, all appointed by the Government, to discuss a code of conduct for NGOs, and to harmonise their activities for the development of Zambia.

Up till now, NGOs registered with the Company Register. The Government had few powers for interfering with the affairs of NGOs, and suspension involved a lengthy judicial procedure, as in the case of the Southern African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD).3 The new bill also imposes annual re-registration and the suspension of NGOs failing to present quarterly reports.

On July 31, 2007, several international NGOs with offices in Zambia sent a joint letter to the Vice-President, expressing concern about the impact of the proposed bill on their work. They regretted the lack of consultation and expressed their concern in particular about the lack of recognition of the positive role of the civil society, the discretionary powers given to the Minister for the Interior and the manner in which members of the Committee were appointed.4 The result of the mobilisation was that the Government postponed the presentation of the bill. In a report published on December 4, 2007, a coalition of national NGOs proposed amendments to the bill bearing on responsibility for relations with the NGOs, which should be given to the Ministry responsible for Community Development and Social Welfare, on the composition of the Committee responsible for NGOs (four members appointed by the Ministry, six by the NGO Congress, and a member of the Company Register). The obligation to submit a report should be annual, not quarterly.5 Lastly, regarding foreign financing as grounds for suspension, the coalition called for the withdrawal of the provision, or for the drawing of a list of countries from which NGOs should not accept financial help. There have been no consultations in connexion with the report, and the NGOs have simply been informed that the bill was to be presented again during the January 2008 parliamentary session.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 See United Nations document CCPR/C/ZMB/CO/3/CRP.1, 19th session, July 23, 2007.

2 In particular the "Oasis Forum", comprising: the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ); the three main churches: the Zambia Episcopal Conference, the United Church of Zambia and the Zambia Evangelical Fellowship; the NGO Coordinating Committee and other civil society organisations.

3 In 2006 the Government suspended SACCORD's registration, but later the Supreme Court ordered its reintegration. The proceedings continue, as this year the Government has again suspended the registration, but this time the Court has allowed the NGO to continue its activities pending judgement.

4 See Observations and Concerns about the proposed NGO Bill 2007, Lusaka, July 31, 2007, submitted in particular by the following NGOs: Save the Children Norway, Diakonia, Harvest Help (UK), Christian, Children Fund Inc, National women's lobby group, Voluntary Services Overseas (V. S. O.), Dan Church Aid, Norwegian Church Aid, Society for Femininity, Habitat for Humanity, KEPA (Service Centre in Zambia for Development and Cooperation, Finland) and MS-Zambia (Danish Association for International Cooperation).

5 See submission by the civil society on the proposed bill on NGOs, CPSR/NGOCC/ZCSD, 2007.


This 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.