The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has taken note of recent press reports to the effect that the Zimbabwean Cabinet, on 21 March 2006, has approved proposals by the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to set up a constitutional body called the “Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission”. It is indicated that this body will have the mandate to focus on the promotion, protection, and respect for human rights in Zimbabwe.
Whilst the suggestion to set up a Human Rights Commission in Zimbabwe would ordinarily be welcomed, the Human Rights Forum wishes to express a number of reservations about such a suggestion coming at this time.
Firstly, the Minister concerned claims that the major reason for setting up this Commission is to “counter the large scale orchestration of alleged violations” and the “falsification, exaggeration, orchestration, and stage-managing of human rights violations by detractors”. The Human Rights Forum, in the absence of a positive Government response in the past, has been forced to undertake expensive civil litigation on behalf of many hundreds of victims, and here it is gratifying to note that the courts have generally supported these claims, or the Government itself has conceded liability. The Human Rights Forum thus takes the strongest possible exception to such an implication by the Minister, and accordingly can only view the current proposal as wholly mala fides in its intent.
Secondly, the Minister has claimed that a major purpose of the purported Commission will be to verify allegations of human rights violations, and here the Human Rights Forum would point out that the Forum since its inception in 1998 has been requesting that the Government do exactly this, with no response to date. Therefore the Minister’s sincerity must be called into question.
Thirdly, the timing of this proposal, following a number of adverse reports on the human rights record of the Zimbabwe Government – by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the UN Special Envoy on Human Settlements Issues – and the claim that this will restrict the avenues open to redress by the victims of human rights violations can only be seen as a device to avoid scrutiny, criticism and action by its peers in the region and further afield, as has increasingly become the norm over the last few years.
Fourthly, in the current context of Zimbabwe, it is evident that the Government has to date been unable to establish a single Commission or body that can remotely be described as “independent”, impartial and effective. This is the clear conclusion from the Constitutional Commission onwards, and hence the Human Rights Forum wishes to strongly urge the Government to create a Human Rights Commission which will be genuinely independent, impartial and effective.
Fifthly, the prospect of yet another piece-meal amendment to the much discredited Constitution cannot be supported. The Human Rights Forum thus supports the position of most other civil society bodies; that constitutional amendments, without complete constitutional reform, cannot act as a protection for the human rights of Zimbabwean citizens.