The Status of Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa

Despite the euphoria over the defeat of President-since-independence, Kenneth Kaunda's, United National Independence Party (UNIP) in Zambia's first ever multi-party elections, it has become clear that elections did not herald an end to the prominence of human rights issues in the political life of the country. The ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), led by Frederick Chiluba, has been beset by political scandal, defection, corruption and allegations of involvement in the traffic of illegal drugs. The new government has also demonstrated a certain degree of intolerance by declaring a state of emergency and detaining several opponents, following claims of a coup plot hatched by members of UNIP. At the same time, law enforcement agencies for the most part remain fixated on their erstwhile methods of operation, which were, to say the least, not human rights-sensitive. The press is often targeted for harassment.

Human rights organizations (HROs) in Zambia are, in the main, faced with extending the experience they gained in the monitoring of elections and civic education to other areas of human rights work. While the elections were an issue around which it was fairly easy to galvanize interest and attention, there is a need to aggressively promote knowledge of human rights among the general populace--broadly described as "apathetic". Some prominent cases from the past regime, such as the detention-without-trial of Katiza Cebekhulu (the key witness in the trial of Winnie Mandela, who was spirited away from South Africa in order not to give testimony expected to be potentially damaging), have been passed over to the new government, but the government has done little to address the concerns expressed by human rights groups about them. Torture is reported to take place on a regular basis. In addition, there have been reports of a number of incidents where police have detained the relatives of their intended victims, in order to flush them out of hiding--the case of opposition UNIP member, William Banda, being the most prominent. The new HROs that have come into existence are largely believed to be "elitist", and need to cooperate more effectively with the press and others involved in the human rights struggle.

Centre for Human Rights and Democracy

The Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (CHRD) has yet to make a significant impact on the human rights scene in Zambia, although it runs an office for pro bono counselling on legal and human rights matters. The Centre faced initial problems with registration, as the authorities suspected their motives. Although the registration matters were overcome, it continues to encounter problems with government obstruction of receipt of external funding granted to the organization. The Centre is nevertheless looking around for alternatives, and intends to organise a paralegal training course to be conducted in June 1994.

Christian Council of Zambia

The Christian Council of Zambia (CCZ) was part of the group that was active in the Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP), but it has, in general, adopted a low profile with respect to advocacy on human rights issues in Zambia. Instead it deals with questions such as refugees and relief, some gender questions, ethics, development and unemployment. This activity is all conducted under the auspices of the Social Justice Committee of the CCZ.

Foundation for Democratic Process

Initially begun as a monitoring group prior to the 1991 general elections, FODEP is an umbrella organization comprised of several church groups, women's organizations, the Law Association and the Press Association. Today, FODEP has broadened its mandate to cover civic education for the purposes of enhancing the general awareness of the population. Drawing on its experience in the elections, FODEP intends to focus on civil and political rights at the local level, and to involve parliamentary and other elected representatives in the dissemination of knowledge and information about these rights.

Human Rights Committee of the Law Association of Zambia

The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ), a statutory body recognized by law in 1973, established a Human Rights Committee to function under its auspices. The Committee was heavily involved in civic education around the elections and produced a number of programs for the broadcast media on elections and civic rights. The Committee transcribed the notes from these seminars and circulated them as a further mechanism of sensitization. In conjunction with the Catholic Secretariat, it has also designed a program for the conduct of simultaneous seminars on human rights in all the provincial centres of the country, as a starting-point for the sensitization of the broad populace on general human rights issues. A series of seminars for the police force have also been designed, the first to commence in Lusaka. As a major human rights actor, the Committee has received several reports on police violence and prison conditions, and attempts to ensure that these issues are expeditiously addressed.

Interafrican Network for Human Rights

AFRONET is billed as an organization designed to promote coordination and networking among African HROs. As yet, it has only begun to meet with various organizations within Zambia and to publicize its operations outside the country. Although it has observer status at the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, it still has a long way to go, both in the conceptualization of its precise goals and programs, and in raising the the consciousness of HROs throughout the continent on the need for coordination and networking. Its programs focus on communication, the promotion of good governance and sustainable development, human rights, and the interaction of law and society.

Legal Resources Foundation

The Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) was established as a company limited by guarantee, in order to obviate the possibility of the authorities' exercising their powers to ban a society under the provisions of the Societies Act. The idea of the LRF was conceived in 1991 prior to the meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGUM) in Harare. LRF has several objectives, including the promotion of an interest in human rights; the development of law (through the publication of cases, law reports and a monthly newsletter); and reform of the law. So far, however, LRF has not commenced operations and has yet to formulate specific programs to actualize its objectives.

National Women's Lobby Group

Established on July 20, 1991, the National Women's Lobby Group (WLG) is a pressure group established to pursue the rights of women, children and minorities, especially in relation to the policy-making bodies in the country. It is headed by a Secretary General, who is presently assisted only by a secretary. WLG is composed of a number of women's NGOs and its approach is broad in ambit. It is involved in networking and is a resource base for information and policies about women. It also lobbies the President and informs the electorate about issues of women's rights. WLG has developed a three-year plan by which it will work towards a core budget to cover training in human rights and, especially, in lobbying and outreach.

Office of Social Education of the Zambian Episcopal Conference

Often working in collaboration with the other church groups in Zambia (the Christian Council and the Evangelical Fellowship), the Zambian Episcopal Conference (ZEC) has been more public and active in the arena of human rights, especially in the issuance of public statements or pastoral letters, than have its counterparts. ZEC statements have covered issues such as structural adjustment and its impact on human rights, a review of the Constitution, and problems with the transition to the third (present) republic. The ZEC has embarked on an active program of encouraging the formation of Justice and Peace Committees at the local level, building on the model of the Zimbabwean experience. To this end, it has conducted a total of five seminars over the past two years in order to sensitize its members on the spirituality of justice and peace, and the need for respect for human rights. The attendees at these seminars have then proceeded out into the countryside, and sought to disseminate the information they have culled to the broader populace. The results have varied, but are a significant beginning for a process that will invariably take some time to gel. Individual Justice and Peace Committees also identify areas of specific concern to their local communities. Among the issues that have been addressed are: the treatment of prisoners on remand, the payment and condition of domestic workers at large and within church institutions, the issue of allocation of places in schools, and the effect of the structural adjustment program. A national Justice and Peace Committee/Commission has yet to be established.

Women's Rights Committee of the Law Association of Zambia

Established in 1988 as part of the LAZ, the Women's Rights Committee (WRC) gained impetus after the passing of the Intestate Succession Act. Following this, WRC established a National Legal Aid Clinic for Women in November 1990, which has been run in the main by volunteer lawyers. A full-time Coordinator for the Clinic was appointed in 1991, and continues to be assisted by volunteers. The clinic still has problems of recognition and has not been formally registered, but utilizes the framework of the Citizen's Advice Bureau of the LAZ in order to appear in court. The WRC functions like a private law firm, and the majority of its cases are on inheritance, divorce, custody and maintenance matters. The clientele are mainly the unemployed who are charged only a nominal fee.

Zambia Civic Education Association

The Zambia Civic Education Association (ZCEA) initially commenced as a program of UNIP--the former ruling political party--as a mechanism in its "revival campaign" to meet the challenges following the general election, but the party was not extremely responsive to its overtures. Consequently, the group has attempted to distance itself from any direct political affiliation and claims to be wholly independent. The ZCEA is under the organizational control of a Chair, who is the only full-time worker, while all its programs are implemented by volunteers. One of its first actions was to inaugurate what it calls "clinics", which are held every Saturday and Sunday, where ZCEA holds public information sessions, discussing the role of public officers, human rights education and issues such as health, hygiene and the environment, as the most "basic needs" of the community. The group has also targeted the police and attempted to implement a community-policing scheme in at least one area of peri-urban Lusaka. This has been approached as a pilot project, and an attempt has been made to deal with common problems in the relationship between police and the community. The scheme has also addressed conditions at the stations, related to the cells, women prisoners, and so on. The ZCEA has also designed a "right to shelter" project in Mapoloto township.

- Joe Oloka-Onyango

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