Editor's Comment

Let’s spread word about Bill of Rights

THE open declaration by the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) to encourage Zambians to vote ‘Yes’ in the August 11 referendum is indeed welcome and long overdue.
The decision by the lawyers’ motherbody provides the much-needed direction and assurance on the progressiveness of the Bill of Rights considering they are an authority on interpreting the law.
LAZ president Linda Kasonde said in Lusaka on Tuesday that the association has taken the position that Zambians should seize the opportunity to enhance their rights.
Ms Kasonde said LAZ is alive to the fact that due to the history of unpredictable and inconsistent positions taken by successive governments on the constitution– making process in Zambia, the nation may not have another opportunity to realise the benefits of an enhanced Bill of Rights.
LAZ realises that while it may have wished for the referendum to be held at a date much later than the August 11 general elections and the referendum question rephrased, the benefits of supporting the proposed amendments to the Bill of Rights outweigh the prevailing disadvantages.
LAZ has, therefore, pledged to do its best to encourage citizens to accept the proposed amendments as well as sensitise them on the implications of the amendments.
This is commendable considering many people are still ignorant about what the referendum and the Bill of Rights is all about.
We also applaud other stakeholders such as Zambia Congress of Trade Unions for taking a similar stance by urging its members to vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum because the Bill of Rights enhances the labour rights.
Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) and Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) are also on record to have endorsed the proposed Bill of Rights, describing it as progressive.
Among political parties, the ruling Patriotic Front and the Green Party have called on their members to vote in affirmation of the proposed amendment to the constitution to include the proposed Bill of Rights.
The government is currently publicising the Bill of Rights on various media platforms. The ECZ is also in the process of translating the Bill of Rights into various local languages.
While these efforts are commendable, we feel more still needs to be done to increase the reach as well as entrench the messages in the minds of people considering we only have 49 days before the referendum.
Actually, ECZ should have released the translated Bill of Rights at the same time as the English version to accord people more time to familiarise themselves with the contents.
If we are to ensure maximum sensitisation for the remaining period, other stakeholders with specific interests in the Bill of Rights should come on board to sensitise their publics.
For instance advocates of child rights’ need to come out on whether the Bill of Rights is progressive in as far as the protection of children rights’ is concerned.
We also want to hear from the media and media associations such as PAZA and MISA on the proposed media freedoms.
The church has been quiet, what is their take on the freedom of conscience, belief and religion?
Other political parties should also make it part of their campaign song to sensitise their supporters on the referendum and the Bill of Rights.
The more these stakeholders speak out, the more the messages on the referendum and Bill of Rights are amplified.
In all sensitisations, let us ensure that people understand the basics of what a referendum is and the Bill of Rights.
A referendum is basically a vote in which everyone (or nearly everyone) of voting age can take part, normally giving a “Yes” or “No” answer to a question. And for it to succeed, more than 50 percent of all eligible voters should cast their vote.
The general public also needs to know that a Bill of Rights is basically a list of the most important rights to the citizens of a country.
And the purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect those rights against infringement from anyone.
We, therefore, implore all stakeholders to ensure that come August 11, Zambians will walk into those polling booths knowing exactly what they want from the referendum.

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