via Lawyers draw up urgent list for legal reform – The Zimbabwean 19 June 2015
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has set out a list of areas that need urgent harmonisation with the new constitution, noting that delays in doing so have provided excuses to abuse human rights.
The new constitution that was adopted in 2013 after a referendum provides a framework for the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms.
ZLHR, however, noted that the rights enshrined in the constitution must be respected even before the legislature aligns the statutes with the new supreme law.
“The Constitution is the supreme national legal document. The moment that it came into effect, the rights, freedoms and responsibilities contained in it became valid and enforceable by the holders of such rights and freedoms.
“It must be made clear that any legislation or regulations that are not in line with the contents
of the Constitution are immediately null and void. There is no need to wait for alignment of legislation before asserting such constitutional rights, freedoms and responsibilities.
“Delay in alignment is not a valid excuse to be used by authorities, but it has certainly contributed to the continued disregard of constitutional provisions by certain arms of government and their officials,” said ZLHR in a statement.
The human rights watchdog outlined a set of areas that needed priority for the promotion of human rights, equality and respect for the rule of law.
Broadly, said ZLHR, urgent attention must be given to laws that increase access to civil, social and economic justice, strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of state institutions, increase rights literacy and public participation in Zimbabwe’s governance issues and protect the rights and safety of human rights defenders.
Regarding the first cluster of rights, ZLHR said abolition of dual citizenship must be lifted, a citizenship and immigration board set up while those that have attained the age of 16 must be empowered to acquire citizenship on their own, among other things.
All Zimbabweans who positively identify themselves as citizens must not be prohibited from entering the country while there must be no expulsion of Zimbabweans, said ZLHR.
It said the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act) must repeal Section 47(3) which states that a person convicted of attempted murder or incitement or conspiracy to commit murder shall be liable to be sentenced to death.
ZLHR urged lawmakers and the executive to ensure that there must be inclusion of provisions that the death can only be imposed on a person convicted of murder in aggravating
circumstances as provided in section 48(2) of the Constitution while persons younger than 21 must be not be handed capital sentences.
The Prisons Act (Chapter 7:11) must be amended to include procedure to allow those to death to seek a pardon or commutation of sentence from President while the rights of prisoners must be ensured.
The watchdog called on the lawmaking institutions to review criminalisation of the occupation of land gazetted as belonging to the state as a way of respecting Zimbabweans’ right to shelter.
There is need to specify why areas designated as such are prohibited while there must be a review of the criminalisation of loitering within 100 metres of places that are marked as out of bounce, said ZLHR.
Excessive powers of the minister responsible for the Urban Councils Act, who is currently the local government minister, must be reduced while there devolution of municipal powers must be ensured.
ZLHR called for intelligence services, the police and prisons department to be subjected to commissions so as to ensure that they were accountable to the people while provisions must be made to promote non-partisanship in the army.
ZLHR urged lawmakers to repeal legislation that allowed the imprisonment of people who failed to pay debts and provisions that enabled prosecutors to immediately appeal bail granted to a suspect.
The Education Act must also be amended to safeguard children’s rights, grant the right to basic state-funded education to children and all Zimbabweans while promoting free education at the primary level.
There is need for the establishment of a national peace and reconciliation commission to ensure harmony in the country.
The NGO suggested that both parents must have equal custody or guardianship of their children while calling on lawmakers to enable either parent or grandparent to be legally recognised as having the standing to ensure the registration of the birth of a minor.