Sep 7, 2010

Police Brutality

A very disturbing report about police brutality in Zambia was just released today. It’s sad to say that most of it isn’t what a lot of Zambians don’t already know about our police force but it does beg the question – what are we going to do about it?

According to Human Rights Watch, the authors of the report, the Minister of Home Affairs whose ministry oversees Zambia Police was given a copy of the report in June and asked to respond. A copy was also sent to the Inspector General of Police. Both officials did not respond. A follow up request for an official response was also met with silence, and so we have no official response. This is very telling, in my opinion.

I know there are some detractors of Human Rights Watch, who see them as troublemakers with a western-driven agenda to make developing nations look bad. Frankly, I think that’s nonsense, and here’s why:

In a country such as Zambia we have many weak systems of oversight in our public sector. Many public offices are run as fiefdoms where money and power are used recklessly with impunity. For recent examples see the Auditor General’s 2008 report; which ironically to date has not been acted on because of the lack of political will (and perhaps funding). L

We find it very difficult to not only audit our systems for efficiencies, financial transparency, etc but often the follow through is lacking. This doesn’t foster good will among the people or bring a higher level of credibility in our institutions. So, then what is left but to have an independent body with no vested interest in the systems to do that sort of work, bring their findings in the open and demand recourse? 

Those in charge have been given an opportunity to respond, which could have been used to either rebut some of the findings or show that improvements are already underway or to even acknowledge there is a problem! But that hasn’t happened, and probably won’t until someone in a western government starts asking questions and hinting at aid withdrawal for lack of compliance with our own constitution and international obligations that prohibit the use of torture and ill treatment of inmates.

In many ways we are our own worst enemy – behaving like a recalcitrant child who refuses to play nice until he is threatened with harsh punishment, and then cries foul!

I hope I’m proven wrong, and that our government does respond accordingly. Abuse by the police should not be an accepted form of “doing business” and we need to put such abhorrent practices behind us. We ought to do better.


Update 11-Sept

The Home Affairs Minister has responded to the HRW report. He denies the reports of abuse but says the government is currently working to improve prison conditions.

2 comments:

You have to wait for another two generations for Zambia to have anything approaching a civic culture in which both the leaders and the led share a common denominator about the nations mores.
This HRW Report hit the wires yesterday. Another report was carried by Dow Jones about Zambia's growing copper output and the wisdom of the prevailing tax regime. It is the Dow Jones report that has made it into the Zambian media. State House has even issued a statement pinpointing the praise from Dow Jones. What is lost to the govt clowns is that Dow Jones is speaking for the interests of investors who trade in these mining companies on the stock exchanges in London, Mumbai, Toronto, Zurich and Sydney.

No local paper in Zambia has carried the HRW report!

It's funny you should mention the Dow Jones report, I haven't seen the original article and know only what was reported in the local Zambian media. Curious...

Anyway, our leaders have yet to realise that increased copper output is meaningless if the money gained is not used to spur infrastructure development and other such things that are sorely needed by Zambians. Will the real leaders please stand up!

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