Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), in accordance with its mandate of promoting a culture of human rights and constitutionalism in Zimbabwe, has, since the formation of the Inclusive Government (IG), been carefully scrutinising the general environment ahead of the National Referendum on the draft constitution, set for Saturday 16 March 2013. It is vital to note that, not only is the country in a pre-referendum period, but also a pre-election period. Thus the environment currently prevailing serves concurrently as a telling indicator of the environment ahead of national elections.
In this context, the Board, on behalf of the membership of ZLHR, and in accordance with long-held tradition and practice, released its pre-referendum statement ahead of tomorrow’s polling exercise.
In the statement, ZLHR concludes that ‘One of the greatest challenges in the run up to the referendum has been the preoccupation of the three political parties to the IG with ensuring that the draft constitution is accepted in the national plebiscite. This has caused the IG to render secondary other key reforms and processes outlined in the GPA. These include substantive legislative and institutional reform as well as the stemming of bad administrative practices and the escalating impunity for violations of laws and current constitutional safeguards. In particular, the assault on civil society must be comprehensively addressed if the country is not to lose its only remaining independent voice ahead of critical elections.
ZLHR believes that, in spite of the challenges that have faced this constitution-making process, a step forward has been taken in terms of generating debate and a greater interest in constitutional matters, as well as debate around issues of constitutionalism. The process has taken place in an extremely difficult environment, but nevertheless, there is a general willingness and interest in the pursuit of a better constitution for Zimbabwe and this must be encouraged and kept alive. However, the key issues of concern remain – that we have an environment that has been less than conducive to free debate, agents who continue with their old practices of violating fundamental rights and freedoms with impunity, and preventing the sharing and dissemination of information. An inch has not been moved towards correcting this and this will adversely impact the efforts towards a free and fair election if it is not addressed urgently and with political will. ZLHR Pre-Referendum Statement