27 March 2018
The Media Institute of Southern Africa- Zimbabwe, (MISA) the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZIMRIGHTS) and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) welcome the signing of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) by Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa on 21 March 2018 on the sidelines of the recent African Union (AU) Extraordinary Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda. This is a positive step towards the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe and in particular the imminent 2018 general elections.
The ACDEG is the main normative instrument to set standards for better governance in Africa. It was adopted on the 30th of January 2007 and came into force in February 2017. As of September 2017, the ACDEG has been signed by forty-five (45) and ratified by thirty (30) out of fifty-five (55) states. It sets out international standards of good governance and democracy in such areas as rule of law, free and fair elections, and condemning unconstitutional changes of government. The ACDEG is the first legal instrument adopted by member states of the AU that acknowledges that an unconstitutional change of government includes any amendments to the constitution or legal instruments of a member State that infringe on the principles of democratic change of government. Many African heads of state have amended their constitutions in a bid to retain power. Locally, following the events of 15 November 2017, the unconstitutional change of government has become a topical issue. This is why it is important to press home the importance of adopting Charter into local law. However the adoption will not happen if there is no political will to implement the provisions and principles contained in this Charter.
By signing this Charter, State parties pledge to develop the necessary legislative and policy frameworks to establish and strengthen a culture of democracy and peace. State parties also pledge to establish public institutions, which promote democracy and constitutional order
While we welcome the government’s will towards abiding by regional obligations, we urge the government of Zimbabwe to make further steps towards the ratification and domestication of the Charter in line with section 327 of the Constitution. Section 327(2) states that the International Treaties signed by the President can only be binding on Zimbabwe after the Parliament of Zimbabwe approves them. Furthermore, provisions of such treaties do not become part of Zimbabwe’s local law until an Act of Parliament has incorporated those provisions into local law.
In light of this, Parliament must do two things before the provisions of this Charter can be binding on Zimbabwe. Firstly, Parliament must approve the President’s decision to sign this Charter. Secondly, Parliament must pass an Act, which gives effect to the provisions contained in the Charter. Once such an Act is gazetted, Zimbabweans can rely on the Charter to pressure government into promoting democracy, a robust electoral process, and good governance practice.
It is therefore not enough that the President has signed the Charter. We urge the Government of Zimbabwe to take the easy and necessary steps – ratify and domesticate the ACDEG for it to be meaningful in the running of elections. Zimbabwe still has a long way to go in terms of creating an environment which promotes the timeous flow of accurate, up-to-date information between government and other state organs and the ordinary citizen and resident of Zimbabwe.
We also call upon Parliament to act urgently to incorporate provisions of this Charter into domestic law. This is important because this Charter seeks to promote and protect universal values and principles of democracy and respect for human rights within African Union state parties.
It is important at this juncture to call to mind other instruments that have been signed and shelved by government in the past. We thus call upon the government to ratify the African Court of Justice and Human Rights. The 9th of June 2018, will mark 20 full years since Zimbabwe signed the Protocol to Establish the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Sadly, nothing has been done in those two decades to pass an Act of Parliament, which binds Zimbabwe to the commitments it made under that Protocol.
We call upon our colleagues in civil society working in the areas of elections, governance and human rights to work tirelessly in raising awareness on the signing of this important Charter and its various requisite principles, and to press for its implementation.
For the generality of the people of Zimbabwe, it therefore goes without saying that implementation of the Charter’s principles are a cause worth fighting for until victory is won.
Our prayers and efforts should therefore, ensure that this present Charter does not suffer the same fate as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.