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  • Crisis Report - Issue 233
    Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
    October 30
    , 2013

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    Civil Society welcomes prospect of rights commission secretariat

    Civil society has welcomed the prospect of a maiden secretariat for the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) four years after its formation in 2009, following the posting of 51 advertised vacancies by the HRC this week.

    The advertisement of the ZHRC vacancies comes in the wake of a government appointed ministerial committee to realign the country’s laws with provisions of the new constitution in a bid to operationalise several institutions established under the new charter.

    Among the advertised ZHRC posts is the position of Executive Secretary, who will be responsible for overseeing the day-to-day running of the independent Commission and other staff whose advertised duties include liaising with civil society.

    Reportedly, the Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa also promised that government will soon fund the operations of the Commission, which could signal a new and rare impetus by the Zanu-PF government to operationalize the Commission.

    Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) Spokesperson Thabani Nyoni hailed the latest development, but emphasized that it should signify a genuine attempt to safeguard human rights by the Zimbabwean government.

    “The move to operationalize the ZHRC is commendable, and encouraging,” Nyoni said.

    “The minister has to be commended and reminded that when it comes to the issue of human rights, the process itself is as good as the product.

    “There is need for transparency and openness in setting up the ZHRC for it to inspire confidence, and set a different tone and path from the numerous commissions that have become paper tigers.

    “Moreover, the way the justice system operates will have to be reconfigured to accommodate this new reality.”

    Nyoni called upon civil society to continue supporting the process of setting up a functional human rights framework in as many ways as possible, saying that for Zimbabwe this is the “nearest chance towards laying the cornerstone for a new human rights dispensation.”

    The Director of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Abel Chikomo, said one of the major setbacks for the Commission has been the lack of political will to operationalise the body, making the recent development something to be optimistic about.

    “The major problem has been the lack of political will,” Chikomo said, “and the setting up of a secretariat is a huge step towards that political will.

    “A commission will only function with a secretariat and resources, so the government has taken a huge step.”

    The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum Director said the absence of a secretariat to receive complaints and oversee day-to-day operations had impeded the Commission in carrying out its duties.

    Chikomo cautioned that governments, the world over, are not kind to independent commissions as the bodies seek to police the actions of the authorities through demanding accountability.

    Chikomo said it would not be an easy task for the Commission to bring about a real human rights culture even if it becomes fully resourced.

    “Governments do not want independent commissions because they demand accountability,” Chikomo said. “I have no doubt that it will not be easy for the Commission, but I am sure they will operate better than before.

    “If the authorities put a secretariat and fund the Commission, but seek to interfere with its work, civil society must be ready to push for a genuinely independent and workable set up for the body.”

    The Commission’s first chairperson Professor Reginal Austin resigned in 2012, citing a lack of a proper framework, while his successor Jacob Mudenda left in August 2013, after being elected Speaker of Parliament, which leaves the Zanu-PF government often accused of human rights violations tasked with appointing a new chairperson.

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