Remarks by the U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Michael C. Gonzales
Handover Ceremony of DNA Forensics Equipment & Commissioning of the Laboratory
Levy Mwanawasa University Teaching Hospital
May 16, 2023; 09:00 a.m.
(as prepared for delivery)
Honorable Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, Mr. Jack Mwiimbu, MP,
Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security Permanent Secretary, Mr. Josephs Akafumba,
The UN Country Representative, Ms. Beatrice Mutali,
Inspector General of Police Mr. Grapheal Musamba,
Levy Mwanawasa University Vice Chancellor,
Local and International Implementing Partners,
Civil Society Organizations Representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All protocols observed
On behalf of the United States government, I am pleased to join this landmark event to celebrate the opening and handover of Zambia’s first DNA forensics laboratory. This is an important milestone in Zambia’s progress to hold perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence accountable under Zambian law. Not only will this hold perpetrators accountable, but it is also an important component of post-violence care for survivors of violence, their families, and their communities.
As I noted during my remarks in November last year during events to mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, preventing and responding to all forms of sexual- and gender-based violence is a cornerstone of the U.S. government’s commitment to promoting democracy, advancing human rights, and furthering gender equity and equality.
Today’s laboratory inauguration shows the U.S. Government’s steadfast commitment to this effort and quite literally backs our words with tangible action. This $600,000 — or 11 million Kwacha — investment in cutting-edge DNA technology and laboratory infrastructure will make Zambians safer.
However, as we celebrate this partnership, it is worth pausing to reflect on the magnitude of the problem of sexual- and gender-based violence we face here in Zambia, and indeed around the world, including in the United States.
We know that sexual- and gender-based violence affects people all over the world, regardless of age, economic status, or nation. We also know that women and girls are the most affected by gender-based violence worldwide, including both in Zambia and in the United States. In Zambia, the data from the most recent violence against children survey, are concerning:
- An estimated one-in-every-three women will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime.
- Among girls under the age of 18 who report having had sexual intercourse, one-in-four report their first sexual intercourse as forced. Stated more plainly, they were raped.
- Among these victims of rape, one-in-five report becoming pregnant.
These are not just statistics. These are members of our families and our community. We also know that certain communities face overlapping forms of discrimination that put them at even higher risk of violence, including gender-based violence — this includes people with disabilities; older people and widows; children and young people; LGBTQI+ people; migrants, refugees, and internally displaced peoples. Even more, we know that the overwhelming majority of victims – more than 75 percent of the victims – are women and girls; we are talking about our mothers, our sisters, our daughters. Let’s let that sink in for a moment.
Unfortunately, too little has been done in response to the crisis of sexual- and gender-based violence and too few perpetrators have been held accountable. So, it is no wonder that EVERY year Zambian women and men gather around International Women’s Day to demonstrate against sexual- and gender-based violence and to demand action.
In Zambia, the number of sexual- and gender-based violence cases more than doubled over the past two years: nearly 9,000 cases were reported between July and Sept 2022, compared to only 4,000 over the same period of 2021.
We know from the 2014 Violence Against Children Survey in Zambia, which was supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that only 52% of Zambian girls and women who experienced sexual violence told someone, and only 1% sought comprehensive health and social services, which includes forensic services.
We know that it takes incredible bravery to report sexual assaults, especially when history has shown that the law is unable to protect the survivor, and unable to hold the perpetrator accountable. As such, the vast majority of victims of sexual violence do not report their cases to Police. But, among those sexual crimes cases reported to the police, over 89% involved survivors – children – below the age of 16. Moreover, a recent Ministry of Home Affairs study revealed that only 13% of reported sexual violence cases resulted in convictions. And, only 1% of cases had forensic samples collected.
So, let me say this again… it is no wonder that EVERY year women gather around International Women’s Day to demonstrate against sexual- and gender-based violence and to demand action.
As I noted on International Woman’s Day on March 8 this year, the United States stands with – I stand with – those vulnerable and marginalized communities, and their allies, who bravely step forward to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights of expression and assembly to call for safety from physical and emotional harm. All people in Zambia have the constitutional right to security of the person and the protection of the law.
Speaking of the law, however, today’s opening of the DNA forensic laboratory is an historical moment and an important step forward to supporting the rule of law in Zambia. Today, the United States is demonstrating our commitment and solidarity through action. More importantly, I am moved by the presence, the commitment, and the partnership of the Minister of Home Affairs and the new Inspector General of Police in enforcing accountability for rapists, child molesters, and perpetrators of sexual violence.
Today, we are closing this key gap in Zambia’s capacity for processing DNA forensic specimens. This DNA forensic laboratory, staffed with highly trained technicians, now has the infrastructure to process tens of thousands of forensic submissions each year, effectively meeting the national need.
This lab now has the capacity to provide forensic services to support the delivery of justice for every one of these victims and, through the prosecutions and convictions that this technology facilitates, it will hopefully encourage more victims to come forward and seek comprehensive support services.
This lab is just one of many ways that the U.S. Government supports tens of thousands of survivors – mostly women and girls – in Zambia. Survivors continue to be supported at One Stop Centers in eight provinces and associated health facilities that have the capacity to collect forensic specimens from victims according to Zambian and WHO guidelines. Through PEPFAR, the U.S. government also supports many violence prevention programs such as the “Coaching Boys into Men” program, which has reached over 125,000 boys, and the DREAMS parenting program which has reached over 25,000 adolescent girls and young women. It is only through prevention — and by holding perpetrators accountable — that we will truly be able to end this pandemic of violence against the most vulnerable in our society.
While governments and organizations support prevention, accountability, and support to survivors, it is up to all of us to support our community. I am reminded of a recent quote from a group called “Women Weaving Reality,” that says: “In our current reality, the chaos seems to be getting stronger: …, people are neglected, violence is everywhere, and disadvantaged groups of society are collapsing. We say: “Not on our watch.” I hope you will join me in saying “Not on our watch”!
I repeat my appeal from last year’s 16 Days Campaign. Please familiarize yourself with the resources available to those who are experiencing gender-based violence, and share those resources with others. Check in with those around you and make sure that they know they are not alone and can seek help, and where to get that help, whether it’s at a One Stop Center, a DREAMS Center, or toll-free help lines like Lifeline 933 and Childline 116. Ask them, “Are you safe?”
I also urge the government to ensure that One Stop Centers are integrated into all health facilities to ensure survivors of violence receive comprehensive post-violence services including the collection of forensic specimens, which are a core part of standard violence and sexual violence processing kits, sometimes referred to as “Rape Kits.” I am pleased to see law enforcement and public health agencies working together to protect the wellbeing, the rights, and the freedoms of all Zambians and to save lives.
Honorable Minister, distinguished guests, thank you again for the opportunity to speak at this important event. It is an honor to join you in the national efforts to stop sexual- and gender-based violence and violence against women and girls. Thank you!
 United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally 2022: https://www.state.gov/reports/united-states-strategy-to-prevent-and-respond-to-gender-based-violence-globally-2022/
 U.S. Embassy, November 2022: https://zm.usembassy.gov/ambassador-gonzales-remarks-at-the-launch-of-the-16-days-of-activism-against-gender-based-violence/#:~:text=Ask%20them%2C%20%E2%80%9CAre%20you%20safe,single%20day%20of%20the%20year.
 Women Weaving Reality: https://medium.com/nightingale/not-on-our-watch-17907b86b985