56 session people and human rights commission AU - Opinion by Saleya Kwalombota

07 March 2015
Author 

THE AFRICAN UNION, IS IT COMPETENT IN CONFLICT RESOLUTIONS ON THE CONTINENT, BAROTSELAND QUESTION IN PARTICULAR?

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights’ 56th Ordinary Session is bound to take place from 21st April – 7th May 2015. The commission will, among other things, look at issues that affect and conflicts peoples' human rights. In view of the commission's role as a commission within the African union, AU, I am compelled to express my opinion of what is expected of the commission, having in mind the serious human rights violations reportedly perpetuated by AU member countries with impunity. I am not going to dwell on the objectives or roles of the African Union where the commission attributes its mandate, but on the legal rights of Barotseland, as in person under international public law. Is the African Union a serious platform to handle political conflicts, which are on the increase, across the continent or is it just a platform for sharing tips on how to rig elections in order to cling to power for the longest period by various African leaders?

It would be naive to believe that the African union is not able to solve conflicts happening in most parts of the African continent, as long as the administration of the African union is seemingly shifting in attitude towards the human rights abuses reports before her committed by member countries against the minorities calling for political freedom to self-determination. In short, if AU upholds the human rights as enshrined in UN charter, it will not fail in its duties of maintaining peace in the continent which needs urgent attention. The African Union, I believe does not oppose the right to self-determination of peoples, like in the case of Barotseland. The AU should come open to the idea and demand for an independent Barotseland, as evidenced by the legal and historical facts that Barotseland was never traded to a new country of Zambia by the Barotseland Agreement of 1964.

There have been, however, some indications that the African union may not be decidedly more biased in favor of new independent territories in the continent than they are to territorial integrity. Undoubtedly, by referring to international legality, the case of Barotseland is among a few considered African prospective states as born out of legality, and requires the justice of law to bring it to conclusion not the barrel of a Gun. Unfortunately, most of armed conflicts in Africa resulted due to inefficiency by the African union to handle disputes that boarder on sovereignty integrity in good faith including the option of independence.

What is certain is that the African union leaders and members, just as countries in the world, are torn between continuing to support a traditional ally and setting a new course that would contradict the interests of that ally. Now, that the African union has a new chairman, president Robert Mugabe known as a critic of Britain's occupation of huge land in Zimbabwe , should work in supporting the efforts of the United Nations peace process that seeks for peaceful resolution to disputes that exist within member countries. It will be another assault on fundamental principles of international law if bipartisan stance takes center stage by the African union in handling the Barotseland question in favor of Zambia's abrogation of the Barotseland Agreement of 1964, and human rights abuses against unarmed people of Barotseland. Should such step be taken by the AU it will go on record as having endorsed Zambia's illegal annexation of Barotseland and human rights abuses including the right to self determination which is an unalienable Right.

In the meantime, the violations of human rights in occupied Barotseland have in fact amplified despite their denunciations by respectable human rights organizations, such as the USA 2013 reports on human rights violations in Zambia or Human Rights Watch. The Barotseland Activists are subjected to inhuman treatment such as illegal arrests, long detentions, suppressed freedom of expression and freedom of association, deaths with some killed buried secretly, etc. In 2011, about 19 Barotse people who were among those that wanted to discuss the abrogated BA’64 were shot dead by the Zambian police or simply went missing to date.

In 2013, about 150 Barotse people were arrested by simply celebrating at the news that the Barotseland government is put in place, a case which was discontinued by Zambia after six months of detention without trial. The case of the Barotseland Youth Activists is also another example, who wrote a letter in 2014 of protests against Zambian's government sponsoring division amongst liberation leaders by luring some to disrespect others, led to the arrest of three youth leaders Muziba, Nayoto and Sikwibele who were later sentenced and are currently serving a three year imprisonment with hard labor.

Furthermore, the Barotseland self-determination quest is not bound to be solved by holding a referendum. The people of Barotseland have already objected to the idea of referendum in spite of calls by some Zambian political opposition parties and some civil rights societies to subject the issue to a referendum. The rejection is out of the fact that nothing gives Zambia the right to offer referendum to Barotseland, as in the absence of the Barotseland Agreement of 1964, the two territories of Barotseland and Zambia are not bound to each other, and it is utter ambiguity and assault to the Law of treaties.

Even though the issue very rarely makes the headlines, the Barotseland conflict has a significant impact on the development of SADC region. Indeed, the lack of regional integration is a serious consequence: economic exchange between southern member states will lead to economic hardship of the region.

I, therefore, expect the African Union to handle the Barotseland impasse with seriousness it deserves as it borders on the very principle of international law, than military capabilities.

Barotseland must be let free.

Litunga Ni lyetu.

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