Zambia is a constitutional republic governed by a democratically elected president and a unicameral national assembly. On August 12, the country held elections for president, national assembly seats, and local government. The United Party for National Development candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, won the election by a wide margin. Incumbent president and Patriotic Front candidate, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, conceded and facilitated a peaceful transition of presidential power. International and local observers deemed the election technically well-managed but cited several irregularities. The pre-election period was marred by abuse of incumbency, restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and movement, and political party intolerance resulting in sporadic violence across the country. Although the results were deemed a credible reflection of votes cast, media coverage, police actions, and legal restrictions heavily favored the ruling party and prevented the election from being genuinely free and fair.
The Zambia Police Service has primary responsibility for internal security and reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security. The military consists of the Zambia Army, the Zambia Air Force, and the Zambia National Service, under the Ministry of Defense. The commanders of each respective service, however, are appointed by and report directly to the president. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities in cases of national emergency. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the internal security forces committed numerous abuses.
President Hichilema’s victory in the August 12 election represented a significant break from years of authoritarian drift. Hichilema’s election occurred despite ruling party efforts to tilt the electoral playing field in its favor. Hichilema has announced plans to combat corruption, enshrine protections for human rights, and strengthen independent media. His administration has also voiced strong support for human rights and democratic governance at international fora.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by government agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious restrictions on free expression online and in the media and the press, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, censorship, and the application of criminal libel and slander laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the right to freedom of assembly; official corruption; the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and widespread child labor.
The government took steps to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of human rights abuses. Nevertheless, impunity before the August 12 elections remained a problem because perpetrators affiliated with the ruling party or serving in government were either not prosecuted for serious crimes or, if prosecuted, were acquitted or released after serving small fractions of prison sentences. During the Lungu administration, the government applied the law selectively to prosecute or punish individuals who committed abuses and mostly targeted those who criticized the ruling party. The government also took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials for corruption, although impunity remained widespread.