An official of the Secretariat of the Commonwealth of Nations says the organization has received a petition from a Zambia group calling for the temporary suspension of the southern African country.
Victory Holdsworth says the secretariat has put together a team to review the petition.
“We are in the process of examining the submission and we will be able to respond once we’ve done so,” said Holdsworth.
Holdsworth says the Commonwealth Secretariat’s team will consider the suspension request and then advise the secretary-general of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), Holdsworth says, determines how any member state found to have committed rights abuses will be punished.
"The first step is the suspension from the Councils of the Commonwealth, which will mean that that particular country no longer receives direct assistance from the Commonwealth,” said Holdsworth.
The Coalition for the Defense of Democratic Rights (CDDR), which comprises opposition and some civil society groups, recently called for Zambia’s suspension from the Commonwealth. The group accused President Michael Sata and his administration of human rights violations and stifling democracy - charges the government strongly denies.
The group has called for an independent investigation of alleged human and civil rights abuses following its petition seeking Zambia’s suspension.
“It is our position that the current government has repeatedly broken the law and violated the rights of both civil society and opposition political parties. We are asking the Commonwealth to appoint an envoy to conduct an independent investigation into these violations,” said Robert Amsterdam, an attorney for the group.
At a news conference in South Africa, the leader of Zambia’s opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) said the administration is to blame for the simmering tension in the country.
“If you objectively look at the pattern of abuses committed by this government, not just against opposition parties, but also civil societies and business competitors of their allies, it is difficult not to conclude that we are on the road back towards the one-party state,” said Hakainde Hichilema.
But, Zambian Information Minister Kennedy Sakeni rejected the accusations, saying members of the groups lack patriotism.
“It is clear that they are not ready for the task they so much long for. Who takes pride in discrediting a country they aspire to lead? It’s totally wrong un-African, and falls short of the elementary dictates of patriotism and focused leadership,” Sakeni said.