Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Meeting Address by Eileen Sawyer from Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

Dialogue and engagement meeting with NANGO and representatives of sectors – 13 March 2006

Human Rights Sector

Presented by EM Sawyer, Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

1 Introduction

Honorable Chairperson, Senators, Members of Parliament and colleagues, I would like to express appreciation to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee (PPC) on Public Service, Labor and Social Welfare for reaching out to civil society in this way and for taking the initiative to engage with civil society.

The most recent exchange which civil society had with the PPC was on the NGO Bill when the Committee faithfully recorded the interventions of civil society into their Report to Parliament. I would like to thank the Committee on behalf of civil society for having done this.

2 Responsibility of the Human Rights Sector

In making his keynote address this morning, the Director of NANGO, Mr J Mudehwe, referred to the different sectors which comprise civil society in Zimbabwe. On the human rights sector he said “For NGOs to operate effectively, there is a need for an enabling operational environment whereby there is respect of fundamental freedoms and human rights”

In order to fulfill its obligations to its constituents, the prime responsibility of the human rights sector is to ensure that all Zimbabweans received protection under the Declaration of Rights in the Constitution, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and relevant international instruments.

3 Duties of the Human Rights Sector under these Responsibilities

Where such rights are violated, the human rights sector has a duty to speak out and take action both nationally and internationally on behalf of those persons whose rights have been violated, including against the state and its agents.

4 Role in Complementing the State

Civil society, including the human rights sector, provides many services which a state should be providing but does not have the resources to do so.

In Zimbabwe, these include free legal aid, production of materials for the legal system (including the courts), assistance to vulnerable and minority groups, women and children, advocacy and lobbying for legislative change, to name a few.

5 Some Risks Experienced by the Human Rights Sector

These include:

  • A challenging political environment;
  • a perception of hostility to NGOs by the authorities;
  • a collapsing economy accompanied by shortage of basic commodities and rising inflation;
  • corruption in the public and private sectors;
  • the threat of restrictive legislation such as the NGO Bill;
  • Constitutional Amendment No 17 which denies access to the courts by certain categories of people and threatens removal of travel documents from persons construed not to be acting in the interests of the country;
  • the serious curtailment of freedom of assembly, association and expression and personal liberty; all which is aggravated by the utilization of restrictive legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act, the Miscellaneous Offences Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Broadcasting Services Act;
  • general closure of democratic space worsened by restrictions on the private media.

Human rights are protected in the Constitution. Some examples are;

  • Section 13 states no persons shall be deprived of his personal liberty save as maybe authorized by law in certain specified cases.
  • Section 18 entitles every person to the protection of the law.
  • Section 20 states that no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression ie to hold opinions and receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
  • Section 21 states no person shall be hindered in his right to assemble freely and associate with other persons in particular to form or belong to political parties or trade unions or other associations for the protection of his interests.
  • Section 22 stipulates no person shall be deprived of his freedom of movement.

It is a cause for concern that in Zimbabwe today these rights are the most often transgressed.

6 Political Violence Report of the Human Rights Forum for December 2005 (presented by Pondai Bamu)

This report records that in terms of frequency of violations, 2005 was the worst year since the Forum started publishing reports in 2001 and that is was markedly worse that 2004.

The rates of torture and assaults increased during months in which there were elections but the highest number of human rights violations were under freedom of expression, association and movement.

Unlawful arrests and detention of human rights defenders also remained high.

7 Recommendations

The following general recommendations are offered for the consideration of the meeting;

  • Closer and more regular liaison by NANGO with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare.
  • Respect for the rights incorporated in the Constitution by the state and the people.
  • An advocacy campaign for the reduction of violence at all levels, be it political, inter or intra party or domestic.

Design and development supported by HURIDOCS.