By Sean Tembo – PeP President
1. Yesterday l was double shocked. Firstly l was shocked that in this day and age, men of our country’s disciplined forces could torture innocent young boys and undertake mock executions with so much impunity in front of a video camera and within the precinct of a police station. All because the boys were suspected of defaming President Hakainde Hichilema. Secondly and perhaps most importantly, l was shocked that this incident had happened more than 2 days earlier, and despite the ample video evidence, no media outlet had aired the story, no civil society organization or opposition leader had condemned the act and the Government had not issued any statement to explain why the men of our disciplined defense forces were captured on video torturing and carrying out mock executions against young innocent citizens.
2. Look here ladies and gentlemen, our Government needs to make a decision on whether it is going to adhere to the rule of law or not. If the New Dawn Government decides that it is going to adhere to the rule of law, then it must respect all laws. Both those that favor it and those that do not. Today, Mr Hakainde Hichilema is recognized as President of Zambia because the Constitution says so. Today Zambia Army soldiers carry firearms because the Constitution of Zambia says so. Without the force of the Constitution, Mr Hakainde Hichilema would just be a common citizen and no one would be compelled to follow his orders. Without the Constitution, Zambia Army soldiers would not be recognized as such and any citizen would be entitled to challenge them.
3. However, the same Constitution that gives Mr Hakainde Hichilema the power to be President of Zambia and for his orders to be carried out by the defense, security and civil service, also provides that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty by the courts of law. In article 12, the same Constitution of Zambia further protects all citizens from torture or any cruel or inhuman treatment such as mock executions.
4. In the video in question, soldiers wearing Zambia Army fatigues and carrying assault rifles are clearly seen assaulting young boys who look no more than 15 years of age. The assault is carried out with an object that appears like to horse pipe. Further, one of the soldiers is clearly seen pointing his rifle at the head of one of the boys and mimicking an execution. All this took place in what appears to be a police station, based on the signage on one of the doors that is visible in the video.
5. We are fully cognizant of the fact that the Zambia Army is a big institution, and like all big institutions, it is difficult to control the conduct and behavior of each and every member. However, given the sensitive role that the Zambia Army plays in our constitutional democracy, we expect this institution to be disciplined. In that regard, we expect the Zambia Army to have rigorous systems for identifying and addressing even the slightest incidents of indiscipline. Therefore, the fact that a video of Zambia Army soldiers violating the Constitution by torturing and undertaking mock executions of innocent teenagers, had been circulating for more than 2 days on social media, and yet we did not hear of any statement on this violation of the Constitution from the Zambia Army or Ministry of Defense or indeed the Presidency, should be a source of great worry for any well-meaning citizen.
6. Our expectation is that by now, those erring soldiers should have been suspended from the disciplined forces of our country, pending further disciplinary action. Further, they should have been arrested and charged accordingly. The fact that none of the above has been done can only mean one of two things. It is either our displaced defense forces are not as disciplined as we are made to believe, and that they do not have rigorous systems in place for identifying and addressing indiscipline, and that the Zambia Army Command is still unaware of the torture and mock executions of innocent teenagers by their members. Or it could mean that the Zambia Army in particular and the New Dawn Government in general, are fully aware of the torture and mock executions against innocent teenagers and that they endorse such a gross violation of the Constitution. We are more inclined to go with the later than the former.
7. Suffice to mention that Zambia is currently not at war or any armed conflict. However, even for countries that are at war, they appear to enforce greater discipline on their armed forces than we appear to do here. About two weeks ago, three soldiers of the Democratic Republic of Congo Army were arrested in the North Kivu Province for assaulting alleged illegal miners, after being exposed by France 24 television station. Now, we are all aware that the eastern DRC is a conflict zone. It has been a conflict zone for some decades now. Are we saying that the DRC Army has better disciplinary standards than we do, despite the fact that their army is operating in a conflict zone and ours is not?
8. Despite the loud silence by other opposition leaders, civil society, the church and traditional leaders on this gross violation of the Constitution, may it be known to all men and women of this Republic that we do not have the slightest intention of letting this matter die a natural death. The reason is simple; if this incident of torturing and carrying out mock executions of innocent teenagers is tolerated, it will only be a matter of time before we have our own version of Gukurahundi here in Zambia. It is unacceptable to have a situation whereby the New Dawn administration wants to cherry-pick which provisions of the Constitution to respect and which ones to disregard. The same Constitution whose operation makes Mr Hakainde Hichilema President is the same one that protects those teenagers from torture or any cruel or inhuman treatment. It is either we collectively embrace the entire Constitution and live as lawful citizens, both the weak and the strong, or we throw away the Constitution and live in anarchy. What we shall never allow is for the strong to cherry-pick provisions of the Constitution that favor them and that gives them power, and yet abandon provisions of the same Constitution which protect the weak.
9. In the premises above, we demand, as we hereby do, that all the soldiers who were involved in the torture and mock execution of innocent teenagers be immediately arrested and charged accordingly. Yesterday we had given the New Dawn administration a 72 hour ultimatum. However, in retrospect and looking at the pace of decision making in Government, we have decided to extend the ultimatum from 72 hours to 14 days. The reason is simple; we want Government to have the opportunity of making the right decision, so that when they make the wrong decision, it will not be because they did not have an adequate opportunity of making the right decision.
10. If at the expiration of our 14 day ultimatum, the soldiers who were involved in the torture and mock execution of innocent teenagers are not arrested and charged accordingly, we will take it that the said torture and mock execution was undertaken with the blessings and at the instance of President Hakainde Hichilema, who is their Commander in Chief. It will further mean that the New Dawn Government is sponsoring terror against its own citizens on the basis of political affiliation, which is a prosecutable crime against humanity under the International Criminal Court, to which Zambia is a state party. We will further carry out any and all necessary campaigns to let the international community know that President Hakainde Hichilema’s regime is sponsoring terror against its own citizens, and we have the video evidence to back up our assertions. We shall further approach and bring to the attention of all upright bilateral and multilateral institutions including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about these state-sponsored human rights violations and the fact that any funding subsequently given to the New Dawn administration might be used to fund further violations of citizen’s human rights. Indeed, the President has 14 days to chose his poison.