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Violence against women: UN expert ends visit to Zambia

LUSAKA (10 December 2010) – In conclusion of her official visit to Zambia the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, delivered the following preliminary findings:

“At the outset, I would like to express my appreciation for the cooperation extended to me by the Government. I am grateful to all my interlocutors, including State officials, representatives of civil society organisations, representatives of United Nations agencies, and individual victims of violence that shared their personal experiences with me.

I could not have a better opportunity to conclude my visit on the same day when we commemorate the end of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence and human rights day. And I could not have a better opportunity to recall some of the international obligations the Zambian State committed to when it ratified most of the major international and regional human rights instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.

It is an exciting time for this country, a time which is seeing important constitutional and law review processes aimed at strengthening and accelerating efforts to eradicate violence against women and uphold women’s rights. These processes demonstrate political will and openness to tackle the current challenges that women still face in Zambia.

Yet I am saddened to learn that, according to the draft Constitution of 27 August 2010 which was shared by the Government, existing article 23.4 which permits discriminatory laws and practices in the area of personal laws and customary law may be retained despite the guarantee of equal status of women found in article 11 of the current Constitution. Back in 2002 the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) called on the Government to repeal article 23.4 as it permits discrimination in the areas of law that most affect women. In 2007 the Human Rights Committee also reiterated this call, and recently CEDAW requested the State to provide information on the follow-up to its earlier recommendation.

The Gender Based Violence Bill currently before Parliament is an important step forward in providing frameworks that should be ultimately conducive to strengthening the fight against all forms of violence. All stakeholders I interacted with are hopeful that this Bill may be adopted soon. While understanding these hopes, I encourage all stakeholders to be ready with a plan for implementation of the Bill including financial and capacity-building plans. Experiences in other countries have shown that some legislation remains good on paper only, despite its intention to prevent, protect, punish and provide reparation for women who have been subjected to violence. This is part of the due diligence obligation of Zambia according to international law and more specifically the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Declaration on Violence against Women.

We know that law is not a panacea for social problems and the persistence of negative customary and religious practices continues to exacerbate discrimination against women and women’s position of dependence and subordination. I welcome the efforts taken by State institutions to regulate some of these practices, including inheritance practices, sexual cleansing, marriage and land tenure systems. Legislative efforts must be continuously pursued alongside massive endeavours to educate and change the mindsets of men, women and children, through all available means including schools, traditional and religious leaders, and the media.

Zambia does not seem to be immune from practices of violence against women committed or condoned by State agents. In this regard I was informed that female detainees, whether in police custody or in prisons, have to endure harsh living conditions, including little medical attention for pre-natal and post-natal care and treatment, and for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis testing, and with little or no adequate nutrition support. Women in detention facilities are also subjected to abuse, violence and humiliating and degrading punishment in order to extract confessions. Women are also offered release in exchange for sex.

Zambia is a vibrant society which is not afraid of change. I encourage all stakeholders to take advantage of this moment in order to promote human rights for all and keep violence against women on the national agenda. I also call on all duty bearers to take on their responsibilities to translate laws and policies into reality for all rights-holders. The challenging of negative practices which violate women’s equality and non-discrimination rights requires action at both the state and non-state level.

My findings will be discussed in a comprehensive way in the report I will present to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2011.

Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council, for an initial period of three year. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo is also a Professor in the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town.

For additional information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/women/rapporteur/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Zambia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/ZMIndex.aspx