THE Human Rights Commission has called for punishment of perpetrators in the death of a University of Zambia student and compensation to the family of the deceased. HRC spokesperson Mweelwa Muleya yesterday condemned the death of Vespers Simuzhila, a fourth year UNZA student who was two months away from graduating, following a careless police operation to quell a protest at the Great East Road campus.
Muleya said regardless of how unlawful, unreasonable and unjustifiable the students’ conduct might have been, the police should not have gone into the campus premises.
He said HRC was calling for calmness at UNZA to allow the authorities to get to the bottom of the unfortunate incident.
“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,” Muleya said in a statement.
“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 HRC also condemned the lawless behaviour of some students who resorted to blocking the roads and destroying property whenever they were aggrieved.
“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,” Muleya said.
He said the death of Vespers from suffocation, as a result of teargas that was reportedly thrown into her room, was a clear case of violation of her right to life.
Muleya said HRC strongly believed 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.
He said it was deeply regrettable that police ignored the advice given by the Commission on December 18, 2017 after a similar riot at the Copperbelt University to refrain from invading campus premises and smoking students out of their rooms using teargas.
Muleya said it was the HRC’s considered view that the death of Vespers did 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.
“The death of Vespers Shimuzhila from suffocation after her room which 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,” he said. “…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.”
He said it was common knowledge that most students who were found in their rooms during protests were those who “may be too scared to even go out of their rooms and are usually not part of the protestors”.
Muleya told the Zambia Police Service and its command that students participating in protests did not usually take refuge in their rooms when being pursued by the police because they were aware that whistleblowers, otherwise infamously known as moles, may have tipped the police about their room numbers.
He said police’s invasion of the campus and students’ rooms, particularly at night, was unreasonable, unjustifiable and an act of misplaced professional judgment.
“As a result, 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 judgment and conduct that results into violation of human rights such as the death of Vesper,” Muleya said. “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 student’s 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.”
He said the death Vespers, 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, was deeply disheartening.
“The Commission, therefore, renders its heartfelt condolences to the extremely bereaved Shimuzhila family, her friends and the student’s 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 primary 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 higher 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,” said Muleya. “…The Commission strongly advises that Students’ Unions must be restored immediately as a matter of respect for human rights, rule of law and constitutionalism.”