‘UNZA DEATH: POLICE TO BLAME’

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Sun Reporter writes

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has accused Police of causing the death of University of Zambia (UNZA) student Vespers Shimunzhila, who died of suffocation by inhalation of smoke .

Police spokesperson, Esther Katongo refused to comment on the matter saying they (police) stopped commenting after forwarding the matter for an inquest whose hearing is due to start next month.

The report by the Human Rights Commission on the UNZA incident, comes barely weeks after the inquest into Vespers’ death opened in the Lusaka Magistrates Court.

“We have just issued the statement in accordance with our constitutional mandate, we are at the moment not interested from being diverted from the matter at hand by anyone,” stated HRC spokesperson Mwelwa Muleya when asked whether Commission had considered that an inquest hearing was due to start next month.

In a report of its independent investigations into the matter, released by the chairperson Mr Mudford Mwandenga, in Lusaka yesterday, the commission called for the prosecution of the police officers involved in the operation and the compensation of the injured students.

The report says suspected hand grenades and tear gas canisters were thrown into students’ rooms, by police .

Police spokesperson, Esther Katongo

The commission also states that the action by the police is to blame for the injury of other students, and the damage to property during the October 4 to 5, 2018 students’ unrest.

“Further, from all the evidence submitted by a wide range of witnesses during investigations, it can be concluded that the invasion of the UNZA Campus premises and subsequent throwing of suspected hand grenades and firing of tear gas canisters into students rooms by the Zambia Police Service, caused the death of Vespers, the injury of other students as well as the loss of, and damage to University and Students’ Property.,” reads the report in part.

The report further states, “That the late Vespers Shimuzhila died as a result of “suffocation due to carbon monoxide intoxication” as confirmed by the medical evidence through a post-mortem. It is therefore beyond any reasonable doubt that Vespers Shimuzhila did not die from a natural cause.” 

The commission described the firing of tear gas canisters into the students’ rooms as unprofessional and an act of excessive use of force which resulted into a grave violation of the right to life. 

“It is clear from the totality of the evidence obtained that the police acted in an extremely brutal manner depicting a combative warfare situation against unarmed students who at that time no longer posed any real danger or violence to the police officers or to any other member of the public or property,” says the report.

The commission called on the Zambia Police Command to own up and take responsibility over Vespers Shimuzhila’s death, the injuries sustained by Everntyn Choongo, Trudie Kalimbwe and others, and for the loss of property.

“It is regrettable that the Zambia Police Service conduct in this case amounted to breach of their own constitutional mandate and obligation to protect life and property and to uphold the Bill of Rights,” stated the HRC report.

The commission has also called for appropriate criminal charges to be made against the police officers involved, including the senior police officers in-charge of the operation, for the loss of life, the body injuries to several students and damage to property.

HRC further recommends that, “the estate of the late Vespers Shimuzhila should consider instituting legal proceedings against the State and its agents (police officers involved) for the arbitrary loss of her constitutionally guaranteed and birth right to life in order to secure adequate compensation.” 

Vespers Shimunzhila

The commission has also recommended that Government continues paying all medical and other incidental expenses towards the treatment of Everntyn Choongo until her full recovery and rehabilitation. 

The report stated that, “The State should further compensate Everntyn Choongo for the serious injuries she suffered including a fractured lower spine resulting in her paralysis.”

The commission has recommended that the state pays for all personal and university property resulting from the police brutal action and also compensates all students who were injured during the incident.

“To this effect, UNZA management must compile a list or report on the lost and damaged students’ property during the stated police operation,” says the HRC report, adding that “affected students are also at liberty to consider instituting legal action against the State individually or severally.”

The Commission has also ordered the Minister of Higher Education to lift the ban on Students Union at all Higher Learning Institutions because it is a violation of the fundamental freedom of association guaranteed under Article 21 (1) of the Zambian Constitution and Section 27 (1) of the Higher Education Act No. 4 of 2013 which provides for the existence of students’ union in higher education institutions.  

“The student unrest of 4th October, 2018 demonstrated that banning student unions is not an effective remedy to averting student unrest. To the contrary, it makes the management of students’ welfare difficult as it breaks the communication channel between the students, UNZA management and the Government” states the HRC report. 

The HRC stressed the need for government to ensure that it provides remedies for all human rights violations that occur within its jurisdiction.

The commission has advised students address grievances in a more civil manner that respects the rights and freedoms of others.

“Students should desist from engaging in behaviour that is disruptive to other members of the University Community as well as the general public,” the HRC stated.

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