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Keynote address by the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, the Rt. Hon. Morgan Tsvangirai on the occasion of the United Nations' International Human Rights day
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai
December 11, 2011

It is my singular honour and privilege to be part of this great day; the UN International Human Rights day where we celebrate the basic rights of people to pursue and live their dreams.

I want to say from the outset that we are celebrating this day at a time when human rights in this country remain under siege despite the consummation of the inclusive Government in February 2009.

While we have fared well as a Government in improving basic social services especially health and education, ordinary citizens continue to be harassed and intimidated because some key State institutions have refused to adapt to the new political dispensation of inclusivity, peace and tolerance.

Basic freedoms of assembly, speech, association and movement remain under attack from the remnant edifices of repression.

Journalists, civic society, human rights defenders and political movements such as the MDC are under attack.

We have all braved incessant attacks, harassment and intimidation.

We are survivors of brutality, hate speech and a curtailed public media given to abetting conflict, hate and division in our society.

We all have graves and orphans in our villages and in our homes as a result of political violence and a culture of impunity spawned by our poisoned politics.

Since January, an average of over 20 human rights violations have been recorded daily and this means we are still far away from experiencing the peace and the freedoms for which a brutal liberation struggle was waged by the brave sons and daughters of this land.

The fact that Human Rights day is commemorated the world over on the same day means human rights are universal and that all human beings deserve the same standards and the same respect regardless of their location on the world map.

One of the greatest scourges of our society has been political violence and no regional or world summit can bring peace in this land unless there is sincerity by the national leadership to create a peaceful and tolerant society.

Only recently, we held an all-party indaba in our quest to end this national curse and as long as all players are sincere, political violence will be a thing of the past.

The onus is now on us to make sure that the message of non-violence cascades to the lowermost structures; the branches and the cells to enable the people to live in peace regardless of political, religious or racial differences.

We owe it not only to ourselves, but to future generations to create an atmosphere of hope, peace, stability, prosperity, tolerance and development.

Peace begins with all of us.

The theme for this year's commemorations, 'Human Rights Defenders who act to end discrimination', is a wake-up call to all of us to stand in defence of the people's universal rights. Universal rights are universal standards that do not discriminate on grounds of tribe, race, religion, creed or political affiliation.

Indeed, I want to use today's occasion to thank the small band of committed Zimbabweans who have spent invaluable time and effort in defending human rights in this country.

Lawyers, civic society activists, journalists and other care givers and NGOs have stood tall and firm and at great risk, to defend the people's basic rights and freedoms in Zimbabwe.

We salute you!

This inclusive Government is not the most perfect of arrangements, but we all recognise that respect for human rights is key to national prosperity and development.

As a Government, we have instituted the Human Rights Commission as recognition of the importance we place on human rights in our society.

This is because human rights are the key to open the dark and dour door of abundant national opportunities.

Human rights are the main ingredient in the national recipe for peace and stability.

And indeed, human rights will lead to a peaceful nation of a happy people that are ready to make a contribution on national issues of prosperity and development.

The human rights situation in Zimbabwe has been intensely monitored by national human rights bodies. The general patterns of these reports since 2000 indicate a systematic and escalating violations of human rights.

There are assaults on the media, political opposition, civil society activists and human rights defenders.

Two years into the inclusive Government, it is apt to analyze whether the same Government and its supporting institutions like Parliament and the Human Rights Commission have made significant progress in the protection of human rights and facilitating transitional justice.

This is even more important given that since the Kenya and Zimbabwe coalitions, African regional organizations have attempted to use the same method to quell political instability and violence in Madagascar and Guinea.

In this regard, it is also pertinent to examine the role that national institutions have played to ensure that law and policy enhance effective functionality of those institutions that are mandated to advance human rights reform agenda.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission was sworn in on Wednesday 31st March 2010.

However, it being a politically negotiated creature whose commissioners were appointed in a partisan manner even though Parliament was involved, the Commission remains largely compromised and it must earn the people's confidence by serving the people in an impartial and honest manner.

For all the imperfections in the Human Rights Bill, what I find revulsive is the clause that stops the Commission from investigating or taking any other action in relation to human rights violations which occurred before 13 February 2009. This is absurd and unacceptable.

This means that as a country, we are taking an ill-informed decision to ignore heinous crimes against the people of this country, starting with the crimes committed by the colonial regime.

This means we are saying the perpetrators of the State-sanctioned violence known as Gukurahundi in the Midlands and Matabelaland provinces in the early 1980s must go scot free.

This means we must pretend that Operation Murambatsvina never happened and that all those who killed, maimed and raped innocent citizens in acts of political violence must escape justice.

These are the hard questions that we must ourselves.

As a nation, we cannot afford to ignore such gross human rights violations without risking the same thing happening again if there is no sanction or of justice is not served to silence the cries of the victims.

Finally, our elections have been bloody and vicious.

As we go towards the next election, I appeal to all of you to be peaceful and tolerant to divergent views.

We have a responsibility to create a peaceful society where people's rights are respected and protected.

I urge all national institutions, especially the police and the army, to play their role in defending rather than assaulting people's basic rights and freedoms.

Once we do that, we will be able to create a Zimbabwe that we will all be proud of.

Yes, peace and tolerance begins with every one of you.

I thank you.

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