8 March 2019
Mental health law reform in Zambia is desperately overdue. The outdated Mental Disorders Act [Chapter 305 of the Laws of Zambia] perpetuates discrimination, human rights violations, and abuses against persons with mental disabilities. It denies mental health care users the rights to live with dignity, make decisions about their care, and access community-based services.
In recent years, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has criticized Zambia’s outdated laws applicable to persons with mental disabilities as violating rights guaranteed under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which Zambia ratified in 2010. The Zambian High Court has similarly called for “thorough review” of the law which it found to be offensive to constitutionally guaranteed rights.
It is in this context and following years of tireless activism that Zambian mental health care users, organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) and civil society have welcomed the Zambian government’s intentions to reform the law by tabling the Mental Health Bill No 1 of 2019.
Zambian mental health users have nevertheless expressed serious concern with the content of the Bill. The Bill contains discriminatory provisions based on an outdated medical model of mental disability and violates human rights guaranteed by the CRPD and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa (Africa Disability Protocol). Rather than being drafted in line with human rights, the Bill is modelled on archaic approaches to mental health that have since been rejected by human rights bodies and the World Health Organization.
Zambian human rights defenders, activists, OPDs and civil society have expressed concern that the Bill does not reflect the comprehensive submissions of stakeholders who were involved in consultative processes in the Bill’s development in the years leading up to its tabling. The National Assembly’s current consultative process on the Bill has been criticized for the extremely short notice that stakeholders have been given to engage since the Bill has been made public. Calls have therefore been made for comprehensive amendment of the Bill to align it with human rights standards.
As regional and international human rights organisations, OPDs, disability activists, academics and lawyers, we stand in solidarity with the demands of Zambian activists, OPDs and civil society in calling for the Bill to be amended in full compliance with the Zambian Constitution, the CRPD, and the Africa Disability Protocol. We endorse the calls for meaningful consultation and incorporation of the submissions of mental health users, OPDs and disability activists.
We commend the extraordinary political will for reform displayed by the Zambian government but join Zambian activists in stressing the vital necessity for comprehensive amendment of the Bill. Zambia has the opportunity to be a regional leader in reforming outdated laws applicable to persons with mental disabilities. We urge the legislature to enable a process of meaningful engagement that allows for the serious deficits of the Bill to be addressed to ensure its compliance with the Constitution, the CRPD, and the Africa Disability Protocol.
- Amnesty International
- Disability Rights International
- Disability Rights & Inclusive Education Scholarship Association (DRIESA)
- Helene Combrinck, Associate Professor of Law, North West University*
- International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
- Muna B Ndulo, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of International and Comparative Law, Cornell University*
- Robert D Dinerstein, Professor of Law, American University, Washington College of Law*
- Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled (SAFOD)
- The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)
- Validity Foundation – Mental Disability Advocacy Centre
*Designation for identification purposes only