“Why Government Should Prioritize Reform of the Public Order Act”

28 May 2024

The Public Order Act (POA) is one of the most archaic and undemocratic laws enacted by the colonial government. It was largely designed to restrict the enjoyment of rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression by the Zambian people, limiting their ability to assemble and organize themselves. The POA fails to meet international and regional human rights legal frameworks, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly. Paragraph 66 of this Charter states, “Where states enact laws on freedom of assembly, those laws shall facilitate the enjoyment of the right.”

The government deserves commendation for commencing the reform of the POA and the production of a legally progressive framework. This effort is vital for any evolving democracy and is critical for authorities to facilitate the enactment of the Public Gatherings Act with meaningful engagement.

The Coalition for Transparent Zambia (CTZ) is a Civil Society Organization working with the CSO Coalition advocating for Public Order Act reforms. This coalition runs awareness campaigns, highlighting the need to reform the POA and advocating for greater transparency and the release of a roadmap for the enactment of new laws.

The POA undermines citizens’ exercise of human rights. Numerous recommendations have been made to reform this Act, emphasizing the necessity for comprehensive reform. This includes ensuring that enforcement of the law is fair and that public gatherings are protected under new legislation.

The government has shown a commitment to seeing Zambians enjoy their freedoms of assembly and association as enshrined in Articles 20 and 21 of the Constitution, as well as international and regional human rights frameworks. However, there have been instances where the actions of the Zambia Police in implementing the POA have been problematic. Restrictions on gatherings, as provided for in section 23 of the Act, need to be addressed comprehensively.

In reforming the POA, it is crucial that the enforcement of the law is transparent and that police officers are accessible to the public. This will enhance the credibility of law enforcement and ensure that any disputes are escalated to the High Court for adjudication within 14 days.

Fifty percent of public gatherings impacted by the POA were organized by the United Party for National Development (UPND). President Hakainde Hichilema and the UPND government have consistently made efforts to ensure Zambians enjoy their constitutional freedoms. The government’s dedication to these reforms is evident in their ongoing initiatives.

Unfortunately, the actions of some police officers in implementing the POA have been inconsistent, with some gatherings allowed to proceed while others are stopped. Ensuring accountability and consistency in the application of the law is essential for upholding citizens’ rights.

For further information or to support our cause, please contact us at GEARSZambia@gmail.com.

(As copied from the News Diggers newspaper opinion section with permission from GEARS Initiative management)

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