Friday, February 24, 2012

Barotseland Restoration deal rejected...It will open a Pandora’s Box, says President Sata

THE Rodger Chongwe commission of inquiry on Barotseland has recommended the restoration of the Barotseland Agreement of 1964, but President Sata has rejected the proposal, saying it would “open a Pandora’s box.”

The commission has further recommended that deputy speaker of the National Assembly Mkhondo Lungu, who was minister of Home Affairs at the time of the disturbances, be removed from his position “for inciting the police to use violence against the people of Western Province.”

The commission has also recommended investigations into the role former Vice-President George Kunda and former Inspector-General of Police Francis Kabonde played when 19 people in Mongu were killed in skirmishes last year.

Dr Chongwe said a team of experts be constituted to establish the role played by various leaders, both serving and former, who may be charged with criminal offences.

Dr Chongwe said the former Vice-President made a statement in Parliament on February 25, 2011 which justified Police action.

He said Mr Kabonde and others in the police command should be investigated for any criminal offences they may have committed, including conspiring with the executive to create an “unfounded war against people of Western Province.”

He said police used unnecessary and excessive force on unarmed civilians.

When the skirmishes took place, the MMD government said only two people had been killed but the Chongwe commission has established that 19 people died, five others went missing and 15 suffered gunshot wounds.

Turning down the recommendation on the restoration of the Barotseland Agreement when he received the Chongwe report at State House yesterday, President Sata said he will be very reluctant to advise his government to make such a decision.

He said if the Government goes ahead to restore the agreement, there would be confusion as all the provinces would demand autonomy.

Mr Sata said it is easy to make such a recommendation but one has to bear in mind that every tribe would want to secede.

And to back his team’s recommendation, Dr Chongwe said: “As a matter of urgency, your government repeals the Constitutional Amendment Act of 1969 which abrogated the Barotseland Agreement of 1964. Doing so will restore the Barotseland Agreement of 18th May 1964. This may in turn restore lasting peace and unity in our country.”

He said the commission found that the continuous denial of permits by police in Mongu to facilitate the holding of meetings violated the rights of expression and freedom of assembly of the people of Western Province. Petitioners, who submitted before the commission, pointed out that the root cause of most problems, including the violence, was the abrogation of the Barotseland Agreement.

Dr Chongwe, a human rights lawyer, said the abrogation has led to high poverty levels, limited economic opportunities and frustrations culminating in overall agitation to defy the police action, including provocation and violence by the police on January 14, 2011.

He said there was no evidence directly linking the Barotse Freedom Movement to the riots but that the action of the executive through the police in suppressing the meeting caused the riots.

The commission also recommended that Government, through the registrar of societies, accepts the application for registration of the Barotseland Freedom Movement and other organisations on the understanding that they are committed to lawful and peaceful means of championing their aspirations.

Dr Chongwe said this will promote dialogue and avoid underground movements.

He said the conduct of the paramilitary police before, during and after the riots was unprofessional and characterised by indiscipline and incompetence, thereby grossly violating the Zambian Constitution. “The action by police on January 14, 2011 failed the legality necessity and proportionality tests in executing the operational order which was given to them,” Dr Chongwe said.

He said the commission found that the proceedings in court against the treason-accused who were arrested after the riots were irregular as they were denied the right to be heard during the application by the director of public prosecutions.

The commission recommended that the judicial officers involved in the cases of people charged on cases arising from the Mongu riots should be investigated by the Judicial Complaints Authority.

Dr Chongwe said all the 132 detainees were subjected to inhumane treatment, injustices by both the police and prison authorities, in violation of the constitution and the Police Act.

There is a strong case to support the demand for compensation to victims on account of loss of life, property and livelihoods, torture and unlawful arrest and detentions suffered according to the severity of each case, he said.

“All victims of the Mongu riots should be fully compensated in line with the criteria as will be established by the experts in the Ministry of Justice and office of the Attorney General,” Dr Chongwe said.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and Labour permanent secretary Amos Malupenga says journalists who are not properly dressed will not be allowed to cover some functions.

Zambia Daily Mail

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