By Francis Maingaila
UN human rights experts on Tuesday urged the Zambian government to take action with regards to the appointment of Zambian singer Clifford Dimba, a convicted rapist, to the post of "ambassador in the fight against gender violence", the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a statement on Tuesday.
Dimba, who was convicted in 2014 - according to the OHCHR statement - for the rape of a 14-year-old girl and sentenced to 18 years in prison, was subsequently pardoned by Zambian President Edgar Lungu, after serving only one year of his sentence.
Lungu subsequently made the controversial appointment.
"The experts call on the Government of Zambia to publicly withdraw Mr. Dimba's appointment and to ensure that there are no further pardons for such crimes against women and girls," said the OHCHR statement.
“Such an outrageous release and appointment as an ambassador for the fight against gender-based violence not only traumatizes the victim all over again but discourages other victims from reporting similar offences,” said Dubravka Simonovic, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women said in the statement released on Monday.
In Zambia, NGO Women for Change executive director Sera Longwe told Anadolu Agency in an interview on Tuesday that Dimba had bought his freedom when he composed a song that appealed to the president.
“The release of Dimba had nothing to do with his reformation as required by parole conditions for the release of prisoners from prison," she said. "If it were not for the song, which he composed in prison, Dimba would still be in prison today.”
“This was not only a mockery of the justice system in Zambia, but also to the fight against domestic battery violence. This action has the capacity to reverse the strides made so far in that battle.”
But chief government spokesman Chishimba Kambwili defended the president’s action, saying the release of Dimba was justified by law.
“Our constitution provides that the president of Zambia can pardon criminals and order their release from prison. This is the prerogative of the president and no one can question him for exercising his rights as provided for in the constitution which he swore to protect,” Kambwili told Anadolu Agency.
Kambwili denied accusations that Dimba’s release was politically motivated.
“Dimba was one among many other prisoners the president released pursuant to article 56 of the Constitution of the Republic of Zambia. Why is the release of another prisoner not considered political?” Kambwili asked.
He maintained that Dimba’s release was due to a recommendation that was made by the prison authorities.
But Law Association of Zambia president George Chisanga had a different view.
Noting that the president has a legal right to pardon convicted criminals, Chisanga observed that the president was supposed to avoid a situation in which he might be accused of abusing the powers vested in him under the constitution.
"I, therefore, agree with the people who feel the president abused his powers when he defied all odds to pardon a criminal convicted of the serious crime of rape barely a year after his conviction. The fact is that, Dimba did not qualify for parole at the time when he was released," Chisanga told Anadolu Agency in an interview on Tuesday.
Geoffrey Simukonde, a child rights activist, called for citizens to express their outrage, and to demand that Dimba go back to jail, he told Anadolu Agency in an interview on Tuesday.
Simukonde said that there was no evidence that Dimba had changed his ways.
Dimba has allegedly committed violent acts against women since his release, according to the UN Human Rights office statement.
“The pardon and appointment undermine the strong message against sexual abuse of women and girls that was sent with the original sentence and trivialise the serious nature of these offences,” Simonovic said in the statement. “Rather, Clifford Dimba has been placed in a prominent position and even portrayed as a role model to fight violence against women.”Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.