Our 2017 human rights year was busy and hectic in terms of developments and issues the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission attended to.
Source: No development without human rights | The Sunday Mail December 24, 2017
I’m happy that on the back of financial support we received from Government and development partners, among them the United Nations Development Programme and International Organisation for Migration, we discharged our mandate in terms of Section 143 of the Constitution.
The Commission successfully investigated and resolved 140 human rights violations between January and August 2017.
These cases involved arbitrary evictions whereby people constructed houses in illegal settlements and the structures were demolished.
Some people properly settled on farms under land reform were arbitrarily evicted without court orders as required by law.
Further, ZHRC dealt with environmental rights and partisan food distribution over which we received massive backlashes from the previous Administration which had been misinformed.
These were real cases, and I am pleased that remedial action was taken.
When we revisited some of the areas, we discovered that everyone was receiving food freely.
Agricultural land rights also featured on the list of cases, so did education and administrative justice issues.
People who had been retired from Government approached the Commission over pensions that were not being paid on time.
In addition, we had schoolchildren being denied public examination certificates because their parents would have failed to pay school fees.
Yet, Section 75 of the Constitution provides for free education up to secondary level.
We intervened in some of these matters and remedial measures were taken so that marginalised communities would not continue to face the same violations.
The Commission also developed an electronic case management system to enhance case intake, tracking, efficient general management and expeditious resolution of reported cases.
We participated in the periodical review process in Geneva in March 2017 and after our participation developed an implementation plan, which is directed at tracking Government’s implementation of accepted recommendations.
Sister organisations made over 260 recommendations to Government and the authorities accepted 151, noted others and rejected some, too.
And so we developed a plan under which we will approach Government in terms of timelines before we go for the next review within the next four years.
We also monitored two by-elections during the year (in Bikita West and Mwenezi East) and Biometric Voter Registration countrywide.
ZHRC has been engaging with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
It was partly through our recommendation and intervention that people previously registered as aliens are now being re-registered as citizens as they comply with constitutional requirements.
These are people born of immigrants from Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique and whose parents were Sadc citizens at the time of promulgation of the 2013 Constitution.
Furthermore, we monitored Tongogara Refugee Camp on two occasions and have followed up on Chingwizi; on people resettled in Mwenezi.
We wanted to assess how vulnerable groups there were coping and assess how far Government has gone in implementing recommendations such as compensating displaced families and relocating people to areas suitable for cropping.
We have also monitored a number of old people’s homes in Manicaland and Matabeleland provinces; and prisons in Marondera, Chikurubi and Harare Remand Prison.
The Commission plans to follow up recommendations to stakeholders, in particular the Justice Minister who administers these institutions.
During the year, we carried out 25 public outreach programmes directed specifically at publicising the Commission’s work and human rights issues.
We will continue to monitor developments as we move towards the 2018 harmonised elections.
As I’ve already stated, monitoring started with BVR and will continue into the election and post-election periods.
We are trying to make sure the political playing field is level; the rights and freedoms of association (are guaranteed); the media is exposed to everyone; people have the freedom of choice and people are not forced to attend political rallies, but attend on their free will.
These are things we are monitoring and engaging stakeholders on so that if anyone was making mistakes, they will correct them before the election.
Improving Zim’s status
There have been improvements in Zimbabwe’s human rights status because when we made our statement at the Universal Periodic Review, we also emphasised issues we thought Government needed to follow up on.
Some of these issues included aligning various statutes with the Constitution and this is an ongoing process.
In his inauguration speech, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his Government was going to respect human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles.
These are issues we have always been harping on about.
We are aware of many people who were arrested for expressing personal views on the decorum and behaviour of some politicians and that was taken as criminal.
But people have a right to express their views and criticise public figures, especially politicians who stand for the rights of all.
So, we will remain on our feet and work with Government to achieve whatever is still outstanding.
There is no perfectictude in terms of respecting and promoting human rights.
This is where we are and getting into 2018, “we will hit the ground running” because we want the next plebiscite to be free, fair and credible for the benefit of our people.
They have suffered long enough; you can’t pretend there is peace when there is no peace of mind and conscience as well.
There is no development without respect for human rights.
Operation Restore Legacy
We haven’t received any complaints, but from a human rights point of view, our own observation is that this intervention was timely.
There was a lot of alarm and despondency on the part of the people in terms of not knowing where they were going; people could be fired from Government and political positions willy nilly.
So, that aura of uncertainty was removed by this intervention.
We are happy with the handing over of patrol duties back to the police; an issue we had recommended to authorities.
We said the intervention should have a timeline and we are happy with Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Phillip Valerio Sibanda’s announcement, stating that police would be back to their policing work in terms of their constitutional mandate and client charter.
We urge police to heed recommendations by the generality of Zimbabweans.
The people they are meant to protect are complaining that there has been heavy handedness by the police in dealing with situations and issues.
The police should be the people’s force and that is expected of the police anyway in terms of their mandate.
Anything extraneous to their mandate is unacceptable and will violate people’s rights.
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.