Profiles in Prevention

Sambwa Simbyakula-Chilembo


Sambwa Simbyakula-Chilembo serves as Acting Principal Counsel in the International Law and Agreements Department of Zambia’s Ministry of Justice. After joining the Ministry of Justice as a State Advocate in 2012, Ms. Simbyakula-Chilembo rose to her current position where she provides counsel on matters related to human rights, public international law, humanitarian law and other general legal issues as well as working on domestic, bilateral and multilateral agreements on behalf of the Government of Zambia and the preparation and presentation of State Party Reports under the various human rights treaties that Zambia has ratified. She is an alumna of the 2016 edition of the Global Raphael Lemkin Seminar, which was held in Poland.

Which actions and/or policies do you feel are the most effective in the long-term prevention of mass atrocities?

In my view, early warning is the most effective tool in the long-term prevention of mass atrocities. Commitment to planning and preparation is essential to ensure the ability to respond in a timely fashion with feasible, effective policy options beyond military intervention. All States must implore means to prevent atrocity crimes as States carry the responsibility for the protection of their populations. It is known, for instance, that most genocides are committed by governments, either directly or indirectly, and, as such, leaders, individuals and the community at large must be warned so they can bring pressure on the government planning genocide. It is, therefore, essential to have in place early warning systems that can prevent violence from erupting or escalating into widespread killings. One of the effective systems through which early warning may be used are National Committees that can spearhead raising awareness. In the words of Senator Roméo Dallaire:

We need to study how (…) genocide happened not from the perspective of assigning blame…but from the perspective of how we are going to take concrete steps to prevent such a thing from happening again.

What is your involvement in the establishment of the Zambian National Committee for the Prevention of Genocide? What is the current stage of the formation process?

By virtue of being a member of the Regional Committee on the Prevention of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes and All Forms of Discrimination, under the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), all members have the responsibility to ensure that a National Committee is established in their respective countries. Currently, the National Coordination Mechanism under the Great Lakes Region Office is in the process of obtaining the necessary approvals of having such a Committee and also recruiting members to sit on the Committee, which will primarily be drawn from government, civil society and academia.

Once all is set, it is anticipated that the Committee will be launched, which will be the vehicle for the State to exercise its responsibility to prevent genocide under its obligations as a party to the UN Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as well as the responsibility to prevent atrocity crimes under obligations as party to other relevant international treaties. Indeed, the need to have a National Committee on the Prevention of Genocide and other Atrocity Crimes cannot be overemphasised for the reason that the Committee will aim to prevent atrocity crimes, act as an early warning body, and will be called upon to develop and reinforce a culture of peace in the country. It will also be tasked with implementing programmes and activities for prevention efforts on an ongoing basis.

What is the primary challenge that the Committee will focus on?

The primary challenge that the Committee will focus on is popularization and/or sensitisation of the public or community on the subject of mass atrocities and the need to have such a Committee. As you know, Zambia is generally known to be a peaceful country and has never experienced genocide or the commission of any other mass atrocities, so it will be a subject on which to massively educate citizens. An emphasis will be placed on early warning – the danger signs and symptoms of an occurrence of genocide and other atrocity crimes.

Who or what motives and inspires you in your work?

International Criminal Law is a subject of my heart. Ever since I got nominated to sit on the Regional Committee on the Prevention of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes and All Forms of Discrimination, under the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), I got to appreciate the field more and appreciate the significance of the Regional Committee and its important work in the prevention of mass atrocities. As you know, mass atrocities threaten peace and security, these shocking crimes must not go unpunished, and impunity must be brought to an end.

For you personally, what was the most important element of your visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau and your time at the Lemkin Seminar?

The entire learning experience and my time at the Lemkin Seminar were incredible. It gave me an opportunity to learn more about the Holocaust and to visit the largest mass murder site in history. I can surely never find the right words to describe my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau in that I still cannot describe the alienating mixed-up feelings and overall numbness I felt during the entire tour. It is a tough place to visit but so important to keep the memory alive, to learn from the past and to stay alert as similar things are still happening today. Just the fact that I was there was enough to pay the due respect to the victims and to be aware of what human beings are capable of doing to each other. Auschwitz-Birkenau indeed remains a memorial that can serve everyone as a mirror of the human soul and a prism for looking deep within ourselves.