Police must be made to account for the death of Unza student; HRC says

THE Human Rights Commission has called for punishment of the perpetrators of the death of the University of Zambia (UNZA) 4th year student.And the Commission has further called for compensation of the family of the deceased Vespers Shimunzhila.HRC Spokesperson Mweelwa Muleya in a statement said the death of Vespers after a suffocation when her room caught fire as a result of a teargas which was thrown by police is a serious human violation.Below is a full statement by the Human Rights Commission….THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION DEEPLY REGRETS AND CONDEMNS THE DEATH OF A FOURTH YEAR UNIVERSITY OF ZAMBIA (UNZA) STUDENT IN A POLICE OPERATION TO QUELL THE STUDENTS’ PROTEST ON THE NIGHT OF 4TH OCTOBER 2018.The Human Rights Commission (HRC) deeply regrets and condemns the death of a fourth year University of Zambia (UNZA) student in a police operation to quell the protest by students on the night of 4th October 2018 and calls for punishment of perpetrators and compensation of the family of the deceased. Meanwhile the Commission calls for calm at UNZA to allow the authorities to get to the bottom of the unfortunate incident to avoid the situation degenerating into widespread breakdown of law and order that may cause a wide range of human rights violations.The Commission wishes to also reiterate its condemnation of the lawless behaviour of some students who resort to blocking the roads and destroying property whenever they were aggrieved because breakdown of law and order is a recipe for violation of human rights. However, regardless of how unlawful, unreasonable and unjustifiable the students’ conduct may have been, the police should not have gone into the campus premises particularly that it was at night and difficult to identify students who may have been protesting at the road side.The Commission strongly believes that if the Zambia Police Service had respected the advice given to them last year by the Commission not to pursue rioting students into campus premises, and for the government to be pro-active in addressing students’ grievances, Vesper would not have been deprived of her right to life.The death of Vespers Shimuzhila from suffocation after her room caught fire as a result of a teargas canister that was reportedly thrown into her room is a clear case of violation of her right to life as enshrined under Article 12 of the Constitution of Zambia and various other regional and international human rights instruments, to which Zambia is a State Party.It is the Commission’s considered view that the death of the UNZA student does not fall within the ambit of the legally permissible derogation to the right to life when one is deprived of life during the suppression of a riot because the victim in question was not rioting but was lawfully and peacefully in her room, away from the scene of disturbances.It is deeply regrettable that the Zambia Police Service ignored the advice given by the Commission on 18th December 2017 after investigating a similar riot at the Copperbelt University to refrain from invading campus premises and smoking students out of their rooms using teargas. If the Police cared to heed to this advice, life could not have been lost in that manner but the police would still have succeeded in executing their constitutional mandate of protecting life and property as well as human rights by simply keeping vigil around campus premises after the students retreated into campus from the roadside instead of going for them up to their rooms. It is common knowledge that most students who are found in their rooms during protests are those who may be too scared to even go out of their rooms and are usually not part of the protestors. Those participating in protests do not usually take refuge in their rooms when being pursued by the police because they are aware that whistle blowers, otherwise infamously known as moles, may have tipped the police about their room numbers and they risked being fished out if they went into their rooms. Hence, they hide in other safer places. As a results, innocent students are regrettably usually victims of police raids on campus. It is for this reason that police invasion of campus premises and students’ rooms, particularly at night, is unreasonable, unjustifiable and an act of misplaced professional judgement and conduct that results into violation of human rights such as the death of Vesper.The Commission had also advised the Government to be pro-active in resolving students’ grievances to prevent students’ unrest. Delayed payment of allowances to students, because of the pangs of hunger, has historically always resulted into students disturbances. It was therefore expected that by now authorities would have put into place a robust mechanism of communication and dialogue to prevent predictable students’ disturbances arising from delayed government obligation to facilitate the right to education. It would be unreasonable and inhuman to expect, let alone to call upon, hungry students to concentrate on learning.The Commission wishes to put it on record that the death of the female student, who was only remaining with two months to graduate as a teacher, at a time when the international community, including Zambia, was celebrating teachers’ day, is deeply disheartening. The Commission, therefore, renders its heartfelt condolences to the extremely bereaved Shimuzhila family, her friends and the students fraternity as a whole.To this effect, the Commission calls upon the Government to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable and the family of the victim is compensated in line with its primarily obligation of respecting and protecting human rights and ending impunity in human rights violations.The Commission also calls for immediate restoration of the constitutional right to freedom of association in all the high learning institutions by respecting and protecting the continued existence and operation of independent students’ union to represent the collective legitimate interests and ideals of students in an organised and lawful manner.During 2017, the Commission facilitated a number of dialogue meetings between the police command and University and College Students in an effort to prevent conflicts from degenerating into violence and clashes that resulted into breakdown of law and order and violation of human rights. It was agreed then that the police would maintain constant communication with the students’ union leaders so that law enforcement agents would also be key stakeholders in resolving grievances by the students in an amicable and non-violent manner.Regrettably, the proposed mechanism seems not to be working and one of the causes could be the reported banning of the students’ unions. The Commission strongly advises that Students’ Unions must be restored immediately as a matter of respect for human rights, rule of law and constitutionalism.The Human Rights Commission is a National Human Rights Institution established under Article 230 of the Zambian Constitution to ensure that the Bill of Rights is upheld and promoted.Mweelwa Muleya Spokesperson HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION Post Views: 1

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