Remarks by UN Resident Coordinator Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio - Hand over of Final Report and Draft Bills on Persons in Lawful Custody Voting: Tuesday 23 February 2021
The Zambia Law Development Commission hands over the final report and draft bills to ensure that Persons in Lawful Custody can vote.
Honourable Ms. Justice Roydah Kaoma, Chairperson of the Zambia Law Development Commission
Honourable Mr. Justice Esau Chulu, Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Zambia
Senior officials representing Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Members of Political Parties, Civil Society Organisations and Faith Based Organisations
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am honoured to represent the United Nations system in Zambia on this momentous occasion as the Zambia Law Development Commission hands over the final report and draft bills to ensure that Persons in Lawful Custody can, for the first time, vote in Zambia.
Let me be quick to congratulate the Zambia Law Development Commission, the Electoral Commission of Zambia, Zambia Correctional Service and the ministries of Justice and Home Affairs and other partners on the Technical Committee who have since last year worked diligently on this project. You all ventured into unchartered waters and believed that it was not only possible but also right for Persons in Lawful Custody to exercise their right to vote.
Your Honourable Justices, Ladies and gentlemen
Democratic elections have to be inclusive and allow for the equal participation of all eligible citizens. Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that the basis of the authority of government is premised on the will of the people which is expressed through periodic and genuine elections based on universal and equal suffrage. Put differently, the government should derive its legitimacy and authority from democratic and genuine elections in which all citizens have an equal say and the right to participate.
In this vein, the 2018 ruling by the Zambian Constitutional Court that Persons in Lawful Custody should be allowed to vote was, in my view, in line with the spirit and the letter of Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This historic ruling has allowed about 14,000 Zambian Persons in Lawful Custody to register as voters ahead of the 2021 General Election.
We congratulate the ECZ and other stakeholders for the efficiency in registering more than 80 per cent of Persons in Lawful Custody within a short period of time. Allowing Persons in Lawful Custody to vote is giant step to consolidate a culture of human rights, good governance and democracy, and represents a significant tangible action to Leave No One behind.
With the final report and the bills now ready for submission to the ECZ, the Ministry of Justice and subsequently to the National Assembly, we look forward to speedy actions to enable Persons in Lawful Custody to exercise their right to vote for the first time in the history of Zambian elections.
We are aware of ongoing debate around the world on whether Persons in Lawful Custody should be allowed to vote or not. we are also cognizant of the fact that some countries maintain a total a ban on the right to vote even for prisoners who have served their sentence.
Common arguments in favour of a ban on voting for this category of citizens is that Persons in Lawful Custody are cut off from civic engagement or do not engage with others in the public sphere, including non-payment of tax and that they only interact with the State through the correctional service or prison system and therefore in such circumstances it is pointless (and wrong) for Persons in Lawful Custody to have the right to vote. Those in favour of Persons in Lawful Custody voting have argued that voting is a citizen’s undeniable democratic right which is earned with the rights to citizenship.
Without weighing in on this debate directly, the UN believes the International Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1976 provides a clear basis for UN member states to allow Persons in Lawful Custody to vote as a matter of human and democratic citizens’ rights.
Your Honourable Justices, Ladies and gentlemen
Against this background, we commend Zambia for giving Persons in Lawful Custody the right to vote and we look forward to concerted efforts by all relevant stakeholders and partners to make this a reality starting with the August 2021 General Election. You can count on the support of the United Nations as a partner in Zambia’s development.
I am, therefore, happy to note that United Nations system in Zambia is implementing the Democracy Strengthening in Zambia Project, which is a multi-year multi-donor basket fund established for the period 2020 to 2022 to support democratic consolidation through credible and peaceful elections in 2021 and beyond. Let me take this opportunity to thank the project donors namely the European Union, France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States of America for their support to the Democracy Strengthening in Zambia project.
Through this project, the UN remains committed to support Zambia’s democratisation efforts through ongoing work such as improving the legal framework for elections including support to the Zambia Law Development Commission and the Electoral Commission of Zambia to implement the right to vote for Persons in Lawful Custody. We are also committed to supporting other measures and interventions to enhance the transparency, inclusion, integrity and institutional strengthening of Zambian key democratic institutions such as the Electoral Commission, the National Assembly, Zambia Police Service, Judiciary, media, political parties and civil society organizations.
Since its launch, the Democracy Strengthening in Zambia project has supported the Zambia Law Development Commission to undertake several stakeholder consultative and validation meetings, drafting sessions and related logistical support from last year to date.
In conclusion, let me affirm that the UN will continue to promote democratic governance and the protection of the values and principles that should be followed to encourage greater participation, equality, security and human development. In a democracy the will of the people is the basis of the authority of government.
I THANK YOU