Zambia | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2006

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In 2005, civil society organizations and opposition political parties continued to challenge-however unsuccess-fully-the government of President Levy Mwanawasa and his ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). Zambia's constitutional reform process was the source of much political friction, spurring large protests in December 2004 and November 2005. The detention of a prominent opposition leader and harassment of several journalists warned of a potential deterioration of political and civil rights ahead of next year's general elections. In March, the government filed a corruption case in the United Kingdom against former president Frederick Chiluba.

Formerly known as Northern Rhodesia, Zambia gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1964. President Kenneth Kaunda and his United National Independence Party (UNIP) ruled Zambia as a de facto one-party state from independence until the transition to a multiparty system in 1991. Kaunda's regime grew increasingly repressive and corrupt as it faced security and economic difficulties during the long guerrilla wars against white rule in neighboring Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Portuguese-controlled Angola and Mozambique. UNIP's socialist policies, combined with a crash in the price of copper-Zambia's primary ex-port-precipitated an economic decline unchecked for two decades.

In the face of domestic unrest and international pressure, Kaunda agreed to a new constitution allowing for multiparty democracy in 1991. Free elections were held in October 1991; former labor leader Frederick Chiluba and his Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) won convincingly, capturing both the presidency and the National Assembly by wide margins. However, the November 1996 presidential and parliamentary polls lacked legitimacy, largely because of a series of repressive measures instituted by the government. State resources and media were mobilized extensively to support Chiluba and the ruling MMD, and serious irregularities plagued election preparations. Voter lists were incomplete or otherwise suspect; independent monitors estimated that more than two million people were effectively disenfranchised. Candidate eligibility requirements were changed, which resulted in the exclusion of Kaunda, the most credible opposition candidate. Most opposition parties boycotted the polls, in which the MMD renewed its parliamentary dominance. International observer groups that did monitor the polls, along with independent domestic monitors and opposition parties, declared the process and the results to be fraudulent.

Prior to the December 2001 presidential elections, the incumbent Chiluba supported a move within his party to change the constitution so that he could run for a third term. Dissension within his party, as well as substantial protests by opposition parties and civil society, forced him to retreat from that plan. Instead, the MMD nominated Levy Mwanawasa, who narrowly won the vote by only 29 percent against a divided opposition; Anderson Mazoka of the United Party for National Development (UPND) won 27 percent. During concurrent parliamentary elections, the MMD captured 69 out of 150 elected seats. Both domestic and international election monitors cited serious irregularities with the campaign and election, including vote rigging, flawed voter registration, unequal and biased media coverage, and the MMD's improper use of state resources. In January 2002, three opposition candidates petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn Mwanawasa's victory. While the court agreed that the poll was flawed, it ruled in February 2005 that the irregularities did not affect the results and declined the petition.

Although widely perceived as former president Chiluba's handpicked successor, Mwanawasa has backed inquiries into alleged corruption by Chiluba and his senior associates while they were in power. Mwanawasa has shaken up the MMD leadership in an effort to assure his nomination to run in the 2006 presidential elections. After sidelining potential rivals in a January 2005 cabinet reshuffle, Mwanawasa spurred the party's National Executive Committee to abolish the position of party vice president and expel presidential challengers such as Captain Austin Chewe and former state vice president Nevers Mumba. In July, Mwanawasa easily defeated a challenge by his major rival Enoch Kavindele-sacked as vice president in 2003- to the leadership of the MMD.

Despite promises of greater transparency and inclusiveness in the country's constitutional reform process, the government has relied on a Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) whose members were mostly appointed by Mwanawasa, who has final authority over its proposals. A coalition of religious and civil society groups called the Oasis Forum-as well as several opposition parties-is seeking the creation of a more representative Constituent Assembly to steer the review process, which would involve a national referendum. In December 2004 and January 2005, civic groups and opposition politicians held demonstrations calling for a Constituent Assembly and the enactment of a new constitution before the 2006 elections; 68 protestors-including members of the UPND and some journalists-were briefly detained in December for participating in an "illegal" protest. In November 2005, the Oasis Forum coordinated a protest of thousands of Zambians to push for a Constituent Assembly. The following day, Mwanawasa rejected a draft constitution presented by the CRC, primarily because of provisions mandating that the president be elected by an absolute majority of voters, that a vice presidential candidate run alongside the president, and that the president devolve certain powers to parliament. In late November, the MMD used its parliamentary majority to defeat a UPND motion to create a Constituent Assembly.

The country is among those suffering most from the AIDS pandemic. UNAIDS estimated infection rates in 2002 at 21.5 percent, and government figures indicate that Zambia already has nearly 700,000 AIDS orphans. While Zambia's efforts to provide antiretroviral medication to people suffering from HIV/AIDS have made progress, it remains difficult to access the drugs in rural areas.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Zambia cannot change their government democratically. While Zambians' constitutional right to change their government freely was honored in the 1991 elections, both the 1996 and 2001 elections won by the ruling MMD featured substantial flaws and were subjects of intense controversy. While a February 2005 Supreme Court ruling held that irregularities in the 2001 presidential poll did not sufficiently affect the result to require a recount, the Supreme Court raised concerns about opposition access to the media and the inappropriate use of state resources and accused the Electoral Commission of Zambia of negligence and incompetence.

The president and parliament are elected to serve concurrent five-year terms. The National Assembly includes 150 elected members, as well as eight members appointed by the president and the Speaker of the Assembly. The next presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in 2006; in November 2005, opposition parties called for the already-begun voter registration campaign to be overhauled, citing the potential for fraud. Five parliamentary by-elections in 2005 were marred by the irregularities noted above, as well as by vote buying.

The opposition-including the UPND; the United National Independence Party; the Forum for Democracy and Development; and the Patriotic Front-is fragmented. In July, Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata-a former MMD stalwart-was arrested and charged with spying and sedition, accused of inciting a costly copper mine workers strike that month.

President Levy Mwanawasa's campaign to tackle the country's major corruption problem continued in 2005. However, a lack of concrete results has started to erode public confidence in the process, and the government is still widely considered to suffer from pervasive corruption. While the corruption trials of officials from the administration of former president Frederick Chiluba proceeded, none were completed; indeed, only one official, Chiluba's former aide Richard Sakala, has gone to prison for corruption (in 2003). After the director of public prosecutions decided to drop a corruption case against former minister of health Kashiwa Bulaya in May 2005, public protests forced the case to be reinstated.

Nevertheless, Mwanawasa has earned praise for banning cabinet ministers and senior officials from bidding on government contracts and for sacking his own vice president, Enoch Kavindele, for involvement in an irregular oil contract. In March, the government filed a long-awaited corruption case against Chiluba himself, accusing the former president of defrauding Zambia of almost $35 million. The case was filed in a British high court because efforts to try Chiluba in Zambia failed and because the allegedly stolen assets are located in Europe. Zambia was ranked 107 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed, but the government often restricts this right in practice. While the government controls two widely circulated newspapers and the state-owned, progovernment Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation dominates broadcast media, the independent media continued to criticize the government. The Public Order Act (POA), among other statutes, has at times been used to harass journalists. Other tools of harassment have included criminal libel suits and defamation suits brought by ruling party leaders in response to stories on corruption; several such cases were brought against journalists in 2005.

In June, Anthony Mukwita was summoned by police and warned of potential sedition charges after he read a facsimile critical of the government during his talk show on the independent Radio Phoenix. In November, police arrested (and later released) Fred M'membe-editor in chief of The Post, Zambia's only private daily- after accusing him of criminally defaming Mwanawasa in a series of vitriolic editorials; M'membe had been formally warned in July after protesting the constitutional review process. Mwanawasa later apologized for the harassment. Reporters continued to face threats and physical assaults at the hands of police and ruling party supporters, and newspaper vendors selling The Post were also attacked during the year. In November, police detained at least six journalists and beat others covering a demonstration. As a result of prepublication review at government-controlled newspapers, journalists commonly practice self-censorship. The government does not restrict internet access.

Constitutionally protected religious freedom is respected in practice. The government does not restrict academic freedom.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in promoting human rights, such as the Zambian Independent Monitoring Team, the Zambian Civic Education Association, the Law Association of Zambia, and the Legal Resources Fund, operate openly. All NGOs, however, are required to register with the government. Under the POA, the police must be notified of all demonstrations seven days in advance; while the law does not require demonstrators to acquire a permit, the police have frequently broken up "illegal" protests because the organizers lacked permits. Authorities used force to disperse demonstrations and detained protestors in 2005, resulting in one death.

Zambia's trade unions remain among Africa's strongest, and union rights are constitutionally guaranteed. The Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, an umbrella organization for Zambia's 19 largest unions, operates democratically without governmental interference. About two-thirds of the country's 300,000 formal (business) sector employees are union members. While the 1993 Industrial and Labor Relations Act protects collective bargaining rights, it also requires a labor organization to have at least 100 members to be registered, a potentially burdensome requirement. In July, a weeklong strike by workers at Konkola Copper Mines resulted in violent riots and the two-week detention of several strikers; the government deemed the strike illegal and arrested opposition leader Michael Sata for "inciting" the workers.

Judicial independence is guaranteed by law. While courts do act independently and have staked out adversarial positions vis-à-vis the government, capacity issues, corruption, and political influences all undermine the efficacy of the judiciary. The court system is severely overburdened, and many accused persons do not have access to legal aid owing to limited resources. A lack of qualified personnel (in part because of poor working conditions) contributes to significant trial delays, and pretrial detainees are sometimes held for years under harsh conditions. In rural areas, customary courts of variable quality and consistency, whose decisions often conflict with both national law and constitutional protections, decide many civil matters.

Prison conditions are very harsh. Severe overcrowding, poor nutrition, and limited access to health care have led to many deaths in prison and-along with unsafe sex, tattooing, and drug use-make inmates more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Allegations of police brutality and the use of torture are widespread, though security forces have generally operated with impunity. In 2005, tensions arose between the police and the Police Public Complaints Authority amid accusations that the police were trying to impede investigations of abuse. While the government Human Rights Commission (HRC) investigated complaints against police and denounced the torture of suspects in a 1997 coup attempt, it has no power to bring charges against alleged perpetrators.

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, tribe, gender, place of origin, marital status, political opinion, color, or creed. However, societal discrimination remains a serious obstacle to women's rights. Domestic violence and rape are major problems, and traditional norms inhibit many women from reporting such assaults. An October 2004 survey by the U.S. Agency for International Development found that 48 percent of Zambian women have been subjected to physical or emotional abuse by their spouse or partner. Women are denied full economic participation and usually require male consent to acquire credit. Discrimination against women is especially prevalent in customary courts; women are considered subordinate with respect to property, inheritance, and marriage. In September, an amended penal code declared illegal the traditional practice of "sexual cleansing," in which a widow has sex with relatives of her deceased husband.