Zambia Excels in Illicit Arms Control But… [opinion]

THE sight of police officers in Ndola parading corpses of three suspects they had gunned down in Masaiti District recently was gut-wrenching and must have injured the sensibilities of many people who watched the antics.

In a show of heroism, three members of the C5, a wing in the Zambia Police Service assigned to pursue suspects deemed a threat to peace, drove on the streets of the Copperbelt city with the uncovered bodies of the so-called dangerous criminals.

With their firearms raised, the officers – highly regarded as the key front for the police service in handling treacherous individuals – displayed the slain suspects’ bodies with gusto and an aura of confidence that could only be associated with triumphant troops in a bothersome war.

In local crime parlance, parading bodies of suspects is a way to send a warning to law breakers, reminding them of the likely consequences they may suffer if they continued engaging themselves in criminal activities.

However, the conduct of the flying squad, as the C5 officers are most often referred to, seems to be having a corrosive effect on the image of the police service, and it is becoming the bane of the local communities.

While they are admired for being intrepid or fearless servicemen, their somewhat indecorous behaviour is increasingly predisposing them to infamy.

Zambian Voice executive director Chilufya Tayali and his Foundation for Democratic Process counterpart McDonald Chipenzi expressed their displeasure at what could be termed a misplaced show of strength exhibited by the flying squad in various parts of the country.

Mr Tayali is of the view that no matter how such conduct is dressed up, it is capable of eliciting deep emotional responses and arousing much indignation in bystanders.

From Mr Chipenzi’s standpoint, the Zambia Police Service should discourage the killing of suspects and uphold the maxim that ‘everyone is innocent until proved guilty in the courts of law’.

Admittedly, the C5 officers operate in aerse conditions, ever facing the possibility of losing their lives at the hands of criminals, but Mr Tayali argues that triggers should not be pulled anyhow.

The civil society leaders also share the view that unless there is proof to support their position, police officers should re-examine the categorisation of suspects as ‘dangerous criminals’.

Such classification, some observers argue too, has the potential to erode the tenets of natural justice and could promote lawlessness in the police service as some officers would likely not respect the human rights of suspects.

According to Copperbelt Province police commissioner Joyce Kasosa, the slain suspects in Masaiti had buried some firearms in a bush and attempted to flee from the police officers as they were being led to the spot.

Ms Kasosa, who faced a barrage of questions from a Muvi Television reporter, struggled to put forward some cogent reasons for her officers gunning down the suspects who were not even armed.

This touches on the multi-layered question on how the police should rid Zambia of illicit small arms and light weapons without infringing on the rights of suspects and running afoul of the laws.

Zambia is, without doubt, saddled with many unlicensed weapons some of which are being used in crime.

The steady haul by security wings of illegal firearms in recent years offers accumulated evidence of the magnitude of the problem.

In August 2007, Zambian poachers handed over 500 rifles to the Government through an amnesty programme in which poachers were provided with agricultural support in exchange for the guns.

The poachers also surrendered about 5, 000 snares within a period of 10 months through a programme supported by the Norwegian government.

The Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zambian Government developed the programme to eliminate poaching by supporting those who surrendered their guns in setting up small farming communities.

More recently, over 1,000 illicit firearms recovered from poachers and other suspected criminals by the Zambia Wildlife Authority and the Zambia Police Service were destroyed in Lusaka.

The exercise, in July 2013, was conducted during the commemoration of the United Nations (UN) International Small Arms Destruction Day.

During this year’s commemoration of the Day, Home Affairs Minister Ngosa Simbyakula said Zambia, with support from the UN, would destroy 1, 500 firearms to curb the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

Dr Simbyakula said some criminals had taken aantage of the continuing political instability in some parts of the central and southern African region to scale up smuggling of undocumented weapons.

Government is also considering a gun amnesty for residents of Chienge, Nsama and Kaputa districts in Luapula Province.

Deputy Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo recently said the three districts were targeted because some residents could have firearms acquired from some neigbouring countries still experiencing armed conflicts.

“We have targeted this region as we believe some people running away from disturbances in neighbouring countries could have traded off their weapons with the locals who are now using them for purposes of poaching,” Mr Kampyongo said.

These views are in sync with those contained in a report on small arms and security in Southern Africa.

The report released by SaferAfrica and Saferworld in June 2013 noted that loose firearms in Zambia were regularly used to commit crime. The weapon most commonly used is the AK 47 rifle.

Legally-owned firearms are documented at the central firearms registry. However, there is a pressing need for the introduction of an electronic database, as it is not possible to ascertain the number of licensed firearms in civilian hands.

The report by Peter Cross, Rick de Caris, Ettienne Hennop and Angus Urquhart acknowledged the fact that Zambia is a landlocked country sharing large borders with Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which have both suffered from significant armed conflicts.

Zambia has experienced some spill-over of weapons from these conflicts. Along the Angolan border, firearms have become a commodity and are traded regularly due to the extreme poverty in the region.

This trade has resulted in criminal activities and feelings of insecurity among people living in the area.

Home-made firearms are particularly rife in north-west Zambia where they are used for poaching.

According to the report, the Zambia Police Service stockpiles large amounts of seized and redundant weapons, but it neither has the capacity nor the facilities to destroy them.

Alongside the efforts being made by the police in combating illicit weapons, there is a desperate need to enforce the legislation governing this matter.

For instance, the Firearms (Amendment) Act, Chapter 110, Firearms 13 of 1994, Section 25 stipulates that no person would, by way of trade or business, purchase, sell or transfer or accept or expose for sale or transfer or have in his possession for sale or transfer, any firearm or ammunition unless he is a registered firearms dealer.

Under this piece of legislation, no person is authorised to sell or otherwise alienate or transfer any firearm or ammunition to any other person in Zambia unless such other person is a registered firearms dealer, or such other person is the holder of a firearm licence authorising him to purchase, acquire or have possession of the firearm or ammunition in question.

Some researchers, including Robert Mtonga, have held that firearms dealers should specify the security measures they have in place to safeguard their firearms and ammunition.

They should also keep a register showing all transactions, and be open to inspection at any time by the Registrar of Firearms.

This is important for the purpose of sealing all possible loopholes that have given rise to illegal firearms in the country.

Zambia is making great strides in eliminating illicit weapons as is exemplified in its cooperation with other countries in the region.

The Southern African Development Community protocol on control of firearms, ammunition and other related materials, to which Zambia is a part, attests to this cooperation.

There is similarly no doubt that the Zambia Police Service will continue being an integral part of such efforts.

However, this should not be at the expense of strict observance of the human rights of suspects.

Source : The Times of Zambia

Leave a Reply