Zambians must congratulate the opposition political parties and civil society organizations for taking the Patriotic Front (PF) government to the Commonwealth for blatant abuse of human rights, says Professor Michelo Hansungule.
In a statement made available to the Daily Nation, Prof Hansungule said that the move should be supported by all well-meaning Zambians in order to consolidate democracy in the nation.
Prof. Hansungule said that in fact, besides appealing to the Commonwealth, citizens should escalate their complaints to various other international forums provided they abide by their applicable procedures.
He said that it was their (Zambian) birthright to take grievances to whichever forum Zambia and other states had freely and voluntarily acceded to.
“Anyone who says this is unpatriotic successfully exposes their ignorance of basic international procedures and systems Zambia has long accepted as part and parcel of the civilized international community,” he said.
Prof. Hansungule said that African governments and its leaders must realize and remember that they did not own citizens’ rights.
“Herein lies their right to complain and even to peacefully take to the streets. It was precisely for this reason that the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to try and prevent people from taking to the bush to solve a problem each time they have a grievance. As demonstrated recently in the Arab Spring, peace loving people everywhere have a limit as to how much they can tolerate a bad government. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the citizens’ complaints to the Commonwealth and in fact they must do it again,” he said.
Prof Hansungule said it was sad that some of the government officials in the current administration had found the move by the opposition absurd when not too long ago they defined the standards of democratic governance.
“Opposition parties and civil society organizations should be congratulated by all well-meaning people for taking the initiative to approach the Commonwealth and express their grievances over their experiences in trying to consolidate democracy in Zambia. Though they may have forgotten after bouncing back to power, some of the state officials who are now crying foul over the report of the opposition and civil society to the Commonwealth are the same ones that took part in defining these standards which today they find hard to comply with. No one imposed these standards on the Commonwealth least of all opposition or citizens,” said Prof. Hansungule.
He said that it must be understood that the international community had evolved from the time when it treated human rights as internal issue for the exclusive domain of the respective country or government to deal with.
Prof. Hansungule explained that the Commonwealth was one of the many options the opposition took in order to have their grievances heard.
He said that the commonwealth was a powerful tool that had been re-vented itself to fight the abuse of human right and promote democracy and good governance among the membership states.
“The Commonwealth has successfully been re-inventing itself towards a powerful weapon to fight for democracy, human rights, rule of law, good governance,” he said.
He said that concerns raised by the leadership about the opposition and other stakeholders holding meetings on foreign land did not matter.
“Does it really matter where citizens converge to deliver their grievances? I honestly think not. If people are arrested for being at a market, going to a Chief or convening a peaceful rally, how do they go ahead and convene a press briefing in that same country to announce an international initiative which as we have seen in this case throws authorities to the margins of madness?”
He said that most of the challenges the country was going through had to do with abuse of state apparatus in particular the police.
Prof. Hansungule said that it was sad that security forces and police in particular were being biased, adding that police were not trained in interpreting statements politicians make during their rallies and cannot pretend to understand subliminal messages underlying those statements.
“ If a meeting is peaceful and it remains peaceful even after certain statements are made by those attending it, how does this bother the police? Does peace bother the police? The Constitution is very clear in that police have a binding duty to protect peaceful rallies and assemblies as dictated to by the bill of rights which is the only authority police must abide by.