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Universal Periodic Review

Second session meeting highlights

9 May 2008 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Zambia this afternoon, during which 39 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the reports on Guatemala and Benin, following the review of the country on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Presenting the national report of Zambia was GERTRUDE IMBWAE, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice of Zambia, who noted that a broad range of issues pertaining to the promotion and protection of human rights in Zambia had been covered with the national report. At the onset of her presentation, the Permanent Secretary responded to a series of questions submitted in writing beforehand. With regard to the death penalty, she noted that in 2002 a Constitutional Review Commission was appointed to collect opinion on, among other things, the abolition of retention of capital punishment in the statutes of Zambia. The report was currently being considered by the National Constitutional Conference, established in 2007. Any outcome on the issues of the death penalty in the review process will only be available after the Commission completed its work. As to the gender-based violence bill, the Zambia Law Development Commission had been tasked with carrying out research and consultations on legislation pertaining to gender-based violence. According to the Commission’s programme of activities of activities, it was hoped that a bill will be in place by the end of 2008. On concerns raised on the high number of cases involving violence and in some cases torture by the police, it was noted that the Constitution of Zambia prohibited torture and other forms of cruel and degrading treatment against any person. The Prisons Act made it an offence for any member of the prison service to commit any act of violence against a prisoner. The Prisons Service will endeavor to report the actual number of reported cases of violence against prisoners countrywide and their outcomes. It was also a policy of the Zambia Prisons Service to periodically sensitize serving members of staff on aspects of prisoners’ human rights from the perspective of national and international legislation. By August 2006 the Police Public Complaints Authority of Zambia had received and investigated a total of 1,273 complaints of torture and abuse of authority out of which 14 officers were dismissed and disciplined.

Responding to a question on women human rights defenders being subjected to stigmatization and discrimination, the head of delegation said all persons within Zambia, including women human rights defenders, enjoyed the rights contained in the Constitution and were protected through the criminalization of activities that would be a threat to their personal security in the Penal Code and other related legislation. Concerning libel and security laws, Zambia did not have or intended to have laws targeted at intimidating journalists. In most instances, Zambian journalists or media institutions had faced litigation where people had been defamed. There had only been a few instances where the Government had taken journalists to court or criminal charges of defamation and individual Government officials had also used defamation laws to seek civil redress. As regards prison overcrowding, the Government was currently transferring prisoners from the most congested prisons and allocated 24 billion Kwacha (7 million USD) to prisons in the current year’s budget. This money would be used to complete the construction of a new prison and to rehabilitate another. In order to reduce the number of remand detainees and convicted prisoners and thereby improve the conditions in prisons, a Prisons Working Group had just recently been established under the Access to Justice Programme. As to standing invitations to Special Procedures, it was noted that the Government would soon deposit a standing invitation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights in line with Zambia’s willingness to cooperate with and contribute to the development of the Special Procedures mechanism.

As to cooperation between the Government and civil society, Ms. Imbwae noted that the Ministry of Justice appointed an inter-ministerial committee on human rights comprising relevant ministries and department to coordinate the preparation of its national report for the Universal Periodic Review. Among its tasks the Committee ensured that national consultation was undertaken and input from stakeholders including civil society was incorporated into the draft report. On the steps Zambia was taking to reduce the amount of time spent in police custody by accused persons and in prison custody by those awaiting trial, under the Access to Justice Programme, consultants were hired to develop a handbook on the best practices and guidelines for the criminal justice system. The handbook was designed to enable every agency, institution or officer within the criminal justice system to be aware of the objectives attaching to access to justice. On measures that were being considered to help reduce the prison population, in particular in relation to judicial reforms, it was noted that the Penal Code Amendment Act provided for community service as one of the penalties that could be meted out on a convicted person. The Act was currently being reviewed so as to provide for a supervisory mechanism for convicts for convicts sentenced to community service. Another measure that Zambia had put in place was the parole system, she added.

During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the announcement that the Government would issue a standing invitation for all Special Procedures of the United Nations human rights system; gender mainstreaming efforts; steps to improve the rights of women, including the right to health and education; the establishment of several human rights institutions; efforts to harmonize its legislation with international norms; the implementation of the State’s national development plan; measures to promote and protect economic, social and cultural rights aimed to boost economic growth; efforts to provide clean drinking water and sanitation to those living in Zambia; efforts to combat poverty; the commitment to recognize the contribution of civil society; the efforts undertaken in combating trafficking in persons and the establishment of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Trafficking; steps taken to combat corruption; and efforts to promote awareness about and combat HIV/AIDS in Zambia.

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to new measures intended to ensure the improvement of the human rights of women; action taken to follow up on the strategic action plan for gender; programmes and measures being taken to prevent gender-based violence and legal reforms undertaken to strengthen violence against women; the abolishment of customs and practices that discriminated against women; efforts taken to fully recognize the civil rights of women; measures envisaged to improve the situation of the most disadvantaged marginalized groups, including girls children and those affected by HIV/AIDS; specific steps taken to combat malaria and AIDS in the country; measures being adopted to raise awareness among population about HIV/AIDS; details of efforts to address the concerns on the high level of maternal mortality and child mortality in the country; the status of efforts to revise statutes concerning the promotion and protection of the rights of children; and steps being taken to sign the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Other issues pertained to the intention of the date to abolish the death penalty; steps taken to improve the situation of prisons and the causes for the high number of prisons; steps to implementation of juvenile justice system; the intention of the State to accede to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the reasons why the PPCA had so far failed to prosecute officers alleged to have violated the human rights; the Access to Justice programme; the anti-corruption initiatives planned; efforts to promote public awareness about the right to appeal; steps being taken to bring human traffickers to justice; and efforts undertaken to strengthen the National Human Rights Commission.

Additional information was sought on measures to improve people’s access to drinking water and sanitation; measures taken to combat poverty; whether all tribal groups had access to education services in Zambia; the intention on adopting legislation to combat discrimination against persons with disabilities; safeguards in place to avoid any abuse of legislation with regard to the human rights of those suffering from mental illness; clarification on the freedom of association in Zambia; efforts to provide free and compulsory education by 2015; steps to adopt the new Information Bill; the current status of the proposed NGO Bill and to what extent the proposed amendments from the NGO society were taken into consideration; whether the Government had sought technical cooperation to prepare reports to the human rights treaty bodies; birth registration procedures; and efforts of the Government to promote the multi-party system of Zambia.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To strengthen efforts on gender mainstreaming; to take measures to improve the situation of widows and girl orphans; to accede to the Optional Protocol to CEDAW; that specific legislation be adopted to ensure the full implementation of CEDAW; to take all the necessary measures to improve the situation of women’s rights on the ground; to put measures in place to ensure that the cultural and traditional beliefs practices in the customary law applied by the Local Courts did not lead to discrimination against women; to consider developing a strategy to ensure that practices of community practitioners were taken into account to improve health services in view of maternal and child health; to improve access to anti-retroviral treatments for HIV/AIDS; to develop programmes to respond to the HIV/AIDS-related needs of sexually active gay men; and to amend the Penal Code to decriminalize same-sex activity between consenting adults and that Zambia.

Other recommendations include: To strengthen the National Human Rights Commission in accordance with the Paris Principles; to speed up the process of incorporating international treaties into domestic legislation and to report back to the Human Rights Council on those efforts; to interpret statutory law and to set enforcement mechanisms in a way that protected non-unionized workers equally and without discrimination; that a strategy of assistance and prevention will be developed for street children in order to protect and guarantee their rights, involving community-based associations and other civil society organizations; to develop a national strategy for human rights education in the school system in accordance with the Programme of Action of 2005-2009 of the World Programme for Human Rights Education; and to institute training and human rights for judges, especially those dealing with cases on the human rights of women and children.

Additional recommendations made included: To ensure that all possible measures were taken to eliminate torture and to ensure that each case of torture or ill-treatment by police officers was seriously investigated, prosecuted and punished and to that adequate reparation to victims; to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; to reform the penal code in relation to the prosecution of journalists; to adopt the Information Bill as soon as possible; to consider changing the Defamation Act in the Penal Code in order to broaden space for exercising the freedom of expression; to improve the capacity of the National Human Rights Commission and the Police Public Complaints Authority by providing them with adequate resources to carry out their important functions; to continue to improve the living conditions of detainees; to establish juvenile courts; to ratify the Convention on the rights of disabled persons; to ratify the Convention on the rights of migrant workers; to take further efforts to be taken to assist disabled persons; to continue its initiative to provide adequate housing for its citizens; to accelerate efforts to finalize the Anti-Corruption Policy and mechanisms for monitoring its implementation; and to permanently abolish the death penalty.

Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were China, Brazil, the Russian Federation, Slovenia, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Mexico, Ghana, Egypt, Germany, the United Kingdom, Cuba, Malaysia, Italy, Azerbaijan, the Republic of Korea, Nigeria, Angola, South Africa and Bangladesh.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Latvia, Austria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chile, Chad, Denmark, Tunisia, Norway, New Zealand, Ireland, Syria, Morocco, Botswana, Libya, the United States, Slovakia and the Holy See.

The 23-person delegation of Zambia consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Immigration Department, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, the Zambian Police Service, the Police Public Complaints Authority, the Zambian Commission for Refugees, the Ministry of Health, the Zambian Law Development Commission, the National Human Rights Commission and the Permanent Mission of Zambia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Zambia are Senegal, Switzerland and the Philippines.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Zambia can be found here.

Adoption of report on Guatemala: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Guatemala are Gabon, Slovenia and Brazil. Introducing the report CLODOALDO HUGUENEY (Brazil) expressed appreciation to Guatemala for its constructive participation in the UPR process and for its clear demonstration of its commitment to human rights. Representing the State under review, CARLOS RAMIRO MARTíNEZ ALVARADO, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the United Nations Office at Geneva, reiterated his country’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. The seriousness attached by the Government to human rights had been demonstrated through this review. The recommendations presented in the report were duly taken on board by Guatemala.

Adoption of report on Benin: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Benin are Nicaragua, Madagascar and Germany. Introducing the report REINHARD SCHWEPPE (Germany) said the troika congratulated the delegation Benin on the report which conveyed an encouraging picture of a country where democracy had found a stable home and where the improvement of human rights was in progress. Representing the State under review, HONORÉ AKPOMEY, Director of Cabinet for Human Rights Legislation at the Ministry of Justice of Benin, said he would share the comments and recommendations in the report with his Government. The important thing was not the laws of a country but the ways in which they were being implemented. Benin was committed to this endeavour.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Zambia on Wednesday, 14 May.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Japan after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of the Republic of Korea.  

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