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Crisis Report - Issue 243
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
December 03
, 2013

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Zimbabwe’s slow domestication of international treaties criticized

A Ugandan judge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Justice Julia Sebutinde, during a recent visit to Zimbabwe graced a discussion forum held in Harare to mark the centenary of the Court and scrutinize the application of international law in the country.

Addressing at the discussion forum held on Friday 29 November, Justice Sebutinde left her audience with a powerful and witty allegory.

She said that if an international treaty were to be equated to a girl, signing it would be putting the ring on her finger, ratifying it would be marrying her, and domesticating the treaty would be taking the new wife home.

But some countries, Zimbabwe for instance, like a confused lad would stop mid-way before taking the object of their desires home.

Justice Sebutinde queried: “What is it that causes a country to sign and ratify a treaty and not domesticate it?”

Tafadzwa Mugabe, a lawyer and academic, presented over-whelming evidence of Zimbabwe’s half-hearted engagement with international treaties, alleging that there are “100 instruments that have been signed by government which have not made any significant strides beyond making their way to cabinet.”

Mugabe said there were important instruments that the government was not even willing to sign such as the Rome Statute, which establishes the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Convention against Torture, adding that many of those treaties that the government had not ratified remained without domestic effect.

“The second question is how many of these have been actually incorporated into the domestic law, and the extent thereof,” he said.

The exception that the lawyer cited was Chapter 3 of the old Constitution and Chapter 4 of new Constitution, which constituted the respective Bills of Rights, which were influenced by foregoing “international conventions and the jurisprudence of the tribunals established to interpret them.”

He said the Education Act as derived from the Covenant Eight of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Children’s Act as derived from the Convention on the rights of the Child may have also been influenced by international law.

Mugabe said the pending alignment of old laws with the new Constitution should be taken as an opportunity to bring domestic laws in conformity with international laws that Zimbabwe is bound by as required by Section 34.

“My aspiration is that government will take the opportunity to start the finalizing of all these outstanding instruments and actually craft laws that speak to the international norms and standards that we have subscribed to,” Mugabe said.

Justice Moses Chinhengo, a former High Court Judge and one of the drafters of the new Constitution, said some of the delays were caused by the onerous task of changing policies, and the intractable conflict between international conventions and parts of the customary law of Zimbabwe.

“I think it might explain why countries take longer,” Justice Chinhengo said. “I don’t exclude the possibility that States go along with others [to sign the treaties] when they do not mean it.” Mrs Msika, who stood in for the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, blamed lack of capacity in government to speedily domesticate international conventions and treaties.

“One of the reasons is that the responsibility of ratifying and domesticating used to be fragmented to different minis-tries,” Mrs Msika said. “And you find that in those ministries there may not be a person who has the capacity, or is aware of ratifying and domesticating treaties.”

In a speech read on her behalf, Virginia Mabiza, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs said the government had come up with an Inter-ministerial Committee resident in the ministry to deal with the issue.

The committee advises government on its obligations in international human rights and humanitarian law and coordinates the ministries in ratification and domestication as well as compiling reports on the progress. Three weeks ago, Mabiza said, a strategy was devised “to ensure effective promotion and protection of human rights in Zimbabwe.”

However, with the apparent disdain of the government towards international human rights norms and standards, many people will only be convinced of its ability to adhere to the noble tenets after seeing a true change of behaviour.

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