The issue of violence-free elections has taken centre stage as Government seeks to ensure voters exercise their democratic right in polls expected in a few months. The Sunday Mail’s Chief Reporter interviewed Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Deputy Chairperson Dr Ellen Sithole on the independent body’s role before, during and after elections. We publish Dr Sithole’s responses below.
Dr Ellen Sithole
In preparation for the 2018 harmonised elections, the ZHRC developed an Election Monitoring Strategy as a tool/road map for monitoring the elections.
ZHRC is going to monitor the harmonised elections in three phases.
It will monitor the pre-election environment and activities associated with the pre-election phase such as political party rallies, political party primary elections and other intra-party processes conducted in terms of the Electoral Act (Chapter 2:13).
Section 243 of the Constitution lays down the functions of ZHRC which include promotion of awareness of and respect for human rights and freedoms at all levels of society.
The commission has an Education, Promotion and Research Unit which deals with conducting public education on human rights.
The commission has already embarked on education and awareness on human rights and in particular emphasising tolerance of divergent views during the election season.
ZHRC’s messages are targeting political actors, law enforcement agents and members of the general public.
All these stakeholders are being informed or reminded of the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe, especially the right to political choice, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and association, and many more.
Furthermore, the ZHRC has a monitoring mandate to ascertain the human rights situation in the country.
The presence of ZHRC monitors in the field has a deterrent effect on violation of human rights.
Reference is made to Chapter 4 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe on the Declaration of Rights.
This particular Chapter clearly articulates the human rights which may be violated through political violence.
Political violence includes but is not limited to intimidation, forced disappearances, forced evictions and displacements, destruction of property, disruptions of peaceful political gatherings. All these actions are linked to political violence.
Section 67 of the Constitution clearly states the political rights of Zimbabweans and how they should be upheld. Some of the political rights includes the right to participate in peaceful political activities, the right to campaign freely and peacefully for a political party or cause, the right to vote in all elections and referendums to which the Constitution or any other law applies and to do so in secret.
Political violence affects the rights to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and the right to personal security among others. Political violence is a gross human rights violation and should be dealt with.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, ZHRC and other Chapter 12 Independent Commissions are currently working together in trying to curb political violence through engagements with all political parties.
ZHRC observed by–elections and the BVR process across the country and made recommendations to ZEC on how ZEC can ensure a free, fair, credible and nonviolent election in 2018.
Cases of human rights violations relating to elections have been referred to ZHRC by political parties.
ZHRC has written to a number of political parties notifying them of its pre-election monitoring activities around the country.
To this end, ZHRC has been attending political party rallies, monitoring the media against political motivated hate speech likely to stir rage, anger and violence.
ZHRC is also preparing to monitor primary elections and is involved in constant engagements with all stakeholders including local government authorities, the security forces, and political parties to emphasise on the importance of upholding human rights principles as well as to promote peace before, during and after the elections.
The monitoring by ZHRC will continue beyond the announcement of the 2018 general election results.
ZHRC has been involved in stakeholder engagements and community education in the form of road shows and radio interviews.
Also, a wide distribution of materials printed in English and other national languages have been used to promote observance of human rights in order to have free, fair and credible elections.
The ZHRC has a referral mechanism in assisting the victims of political violence.
The Complaints Handling and Investigations Unit when in receipt of complaints on politically motivated violence and human rights abuses and violations may investigate such allegations and refer to the Zimbabwe Republic Police to investigate any alleged criminal violation of human rights so that the perpetrators are arrested and prosecuted.
The ZHRC has an oversight role and intervenes in cases where the duty bearers have not executed their mandate effectively or efficiently.