4(C). International law


The Zambian legal system is based on the old English common law traditions and recognises customary laws that comply with the values of the Constitution.29 Several laws have been under revision since the September 2011 general election. These include the Constitution and the Mental Disorders Act 1951. The National Policy on Disability was approved in 2013 but is not yet public.

In many aspects, the Persons with Disabilities Act (PWDA) passed in September 2012 meets Zambia’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The government has ratified a range of UN human rights treaties, which means it must uphold the rights guaranteed in those treaties.30 It has also ratified a range of African human rights treaties and agreements.31

In September 2010, Zambia signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, but has not yet ratified it. Upon ratification the government must establish a body independent from government to inspect all places of detention including mental health facilities. Similarly, Zambia has signed but not yet ratified the optional protocols to the UN treaties on disability, and on women, which would allow for cases to be taken to the UN treaty monitoring bodies in Geneva once domestic remedies have been exhausted.

Of particular significance is Zambia’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in February 2010. The CRPD requires Zambia to submit reports on measures it has taken to implement it. The first state report was due in March 2012.32 At the time of finalising this report (June 2014) the government had not submitted the state report. The UN Committee against Torture reviewed Zambia in 2008 but did not mention psychiatric facilities when addressing torture in places of detention,33 missing an opportunity to comment on the ill-treatment of people within Zambia’s formal and informal mental health systems.

The CRPD came into force in 2008 and its purpose is to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity”.34 People with mental health issues are, for the purposes of the Convention, “persons with disabilities” and thus are entitled to the rights it sets out. The emphasis of the Convention is on removing disabling barriers which “may hinder [people’s] full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.35

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

The CRPD sets out numerous obligations on the government to put in place laws, policies and processes in relation to:

  • Promoting non-discrimination;
  • Undertaking research;
  • Making information accessible;
  • Actively involve persons with disabilities in public in law reform;
  • Take steps towards securing substantive equality for persons with disabilities;
  • Ensuring recognition of legal capacity and providing supported decision-making;
  • Providing access to justice for all;
  • Ensuring that detention and deprivation of liberty is never based on disability;
  • Secure the right to independent living and inclusion in the community;
  • Providing health services as close as possible to people’s communities;
  • Rolling out an adequate standard of living for everyone; and
  • Collecting comprehensive data.

29 Alfred S. Magagula, The Law and Legal Research in Zambia (2009).

30 Zambia has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its First Optional Protocol, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

31 The African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights and its Protocol on the Right of Women, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Cultural Charter for Africa and the African Youth Charter.

32 According to Article 35 of the CRPD.

33 UN Committee against Torture, Concluding Observation of the Committee: Zambia, 26 May 2008, CAT/C/ZMB/CO/2.

34 Article 1 of the CRPD.

35 Ibid.

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