A commitment to human rights

Elasto Mugwadi
The ZHRC will not hesitate even to recommend to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission that it postpones an election in a violence-ridden constituency. Human rights issues are broad.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission is one of the independent commissions established by the Constitution. Its major functions include promoting, protecting and enforcing human rights.

Its major functions include promoting, protecting and enforcing human rights.he Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission is one of the independent commissions established by the Constitution.

The commission’s dual mandate is derived from the Convention on Human Rights and the Office of the Public Protector, formerly the Ombudsman.

We no longer have the Public Protector as the office was subsumed under the commission.

The ZHRC is one of only three institutions in Africa with this dual mandate; the other two are in Ghana and Tanzania.

Its first commissioners were appointed in March 2010, but there was no budget, secretariat or enabling Act then.

It, however, immediately entered into a co-operation agreement with the United Nations Development Programme, which offered capacity-building.

An Act was promulgated on October 12, 2012, with our first operations budget allocation coming in 2013.

So, we recruited our first three secretariat members that December. National Assembly Speaker Advocate Jacob Mudenda was the then chair. I succeeded him in January 2014.

We hit the ground running in June 2014 following comprehensive recruitment.

The commission was not well-known, so we received few complaints. Our first case concerned Tokwe-Mukosi flood victims.

They complained that Government had settled them at Chingwizi without prior consultation and adequate compensation.

We investigated and came up with the Chingwizi Report, which observed the area’s aridity. We recommended that Government resettle them on fertile ground to ensure their sustenance.

At the time, we had also taken up roughly 600 cases from the Public Protector. Some cases related to retired civil servants who were failing to get their pensions.

I’m happy that the commission is almost through with all the 600 cases, and most outcomes have been quite pleasant.

At establishment, we were admitted into the International Co-ordinating Committee of National Human Rights only as observers.

You don’t get the right to participate in proceedings until you are assessed and accredited into the “A” status. We were duly accorded this status in May 2016.

We also secured affiliation to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in February 2017. In addition, the ZHRC is a member of the International Ombudsman Institute.

We asked Treasury for US$7,5 million to finance our annual budget, but only got US$1,2 million.

The commission is relying on international development partners, including the UNDP and European Union.

We are now full-fledged following recruitment and creation of an organogram to cover the human rights portfolio. The administrative justice wing still needs more staff.

The commission is required to set up provincial and district offices to get it closer to the people. However, funding constraints continue to impede our work.

We have embarked on different initiatives such as road-shows to increase our visibility, working jointly with organisations such as ZimRights.

The commission has a responsibility to ensure people’s rights are well understood across the nation.

For example, in the past women were treated as second class citizens and could not even acquire property without the signatures of their spouses.

We applaud Government for coming up with policies that uphold equality.

Children’s rights are also under our purview. Children should inherit the land their forefathers fought and died for, so that they perpetuate the democracy brought by the liberation struggle.

Child marriage based on culture or some religious practices is archaic and should be stopped.

The commission is pushing for all statutes relating to children’s rights to be aligned to the Constitution in order to protect minors fully.

And we are appealing to all political parties, especially as we move towards the 2018 elections, to respect children’s rights.

They should adhere to the Constitutional provision that prohibits children from attending political rallies and political rallies being prioritised over school.

Section 81 of the Constitution prohibits compelling children to take part in any political activity. People should know that no one should be forced to attend rallies.

The electorate should be persuaded; politicians should have positive political agendas to sell.

Most of the time, all political parties accept the commission’s recommendations. But that alone is not enough; we are proposing that the commission be empowered to issue orders.

This is what happens in other national jurisdictions.

In Kenya, for example, the commission there issues an order, meaning recommendations should be implemented on the strength of that order.

If it means property being sold to address a complaint, so be it. We should not have a problem incorporating that into the law to give the commission teeth.

In the forthcoming elections, we will sensitise every political participant on the entitlements and rights of the people.

The ZHRC will not hesitate even to recommend to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to postpone an election in a violence-ridden constituency.

Human rights issues are broad.

The above pertains to civil and political rights, but there are other major rights such as social, economic and cultural rights whose fulfilment depends on resource availability.

The Constitution says there should be free education, but is there free education?

Therefore, we fall short in that respect.

These rights have been realised progressively.

If resources are not available and drought hits the country, problems will emerge. A scramble for food ensues, and the situation is about the survival of the fittest.

About a year ago, we investigated reports of discriminatory food distribution and were satisfied that the matters raised were addressed adequately.

Generally, Zimbabwe has been doing remarkably well in terms of policy imperatives.

International standards and human rights indexing have shown that Zimbabwe has done extremely well.

Institutions that superintend human rights, democracy and the rule of law are in place. In that respect, we compare favourably with our peers within the region.

Outside 2008 — in terms of civil and political rights — Zimbabwe has had peace.

The Government has been coming up with progressive policies and programmes like Zim-Asset which aims at alleviating hunger and poverty.

Authorities have also been coming up with equitable distribution of posts for men and women, even in Parliament. Some countries that became independent before Zimbabwe have not managed the 50:50 parliamentary representation ratio.

Certain issues need to be addressed, though.

The commission listened to commentaries relating to the violence that broke out at an MDC-T meeting in Bulawayo last week.

Such issues should be avoided at all costs.

Resources permitting, the commission is going to look at the matter. It is our mandate to investigate.

In fact, our mandate extends to attending political rallies and intra-political elections.

That’s what we do in the build up to an election as we will have to qualify whether the poll was free and fair.

We have to look at all developments that took place before the election, on election day and soon after the election, including the people’s reactions.

Before an election, ZEC consults the ZHRC and police on the situation in every constituency to determine whether or not conducting an election there would be feasible.

That is clearly stated in the Electoral Act.

We have the power and authority to recommend that “in terms of our findings and experience, constituency A has been riddled with violence and we don’t think the environment is conducive enough for a free and fair election”.

The ZHRC is an independent institution, and whatever funds we get are used with that in mind.

Funds from Government ordinarily go towards salaries while donor funds help with our programmes.

But there are no strings attached.

That principle of independence is among the Paris Principles — a set of international best practices that says no aid should come with strings attached.

 

Mr Elasto Mugwadi is the Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission. He was speaking to The Sunday Mail’s Senior Reporter Lincoln Towindo in Harare last week

 

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