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Position paper on the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill HB 2, 2011
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

July 23, 2011

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Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) notes that the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) can only be regarded as independent, effective and accountable if it has a legal and operational framework and mandate that fully complies with the United Nations (UN) General Assembly Resolution 48/131 (December 1993) on National Human Rights Institutions which incorporates the Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (more commonly known as "the Paris Principles").

It must be borne in mind that the current foundation of the ZHRC - as set out in the Constitution of Zimbabwe through insertion of a framework in terms of Constitution of Zimbabwe (Amendment No.19) Act - is weak and problematic and does not, in and of itself, facilitate the creation of an independent institution. Enabling legislation can go some way towards strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the ZHRC, but the foundational issues relating to appointment of the Commissioners, their mandate and independence, will remain unless further amendments are made to the constitutional framework of this body. This is a point to consider in the ongoing constitution-making exercise.

ZLHR notes that this is the first time in Zimbabwe's independent history that intention has been translated into proposed legislation to establish a framework for considering human rights violations. This is a milestone, and is to be commended. However, although the absence of an enabling law has hindered the operations of the ZHRC since the appointment of Commissioners in December 2009, ZLHR notes that a ZHRC Act that does not comply with the Paris Principles is as good as not having a law at all.

In order to provide guidance to government on setting up credible independent human rights institutions, the United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has developed guidelines specifically setting out what elements or conditions are necessary for the effective functioning of domestic human rights commissions and institutions.

Some of the elements include: independence; defined jurisdiction and adequate powers; accessibility; co-operation; operational efficiency (including sufficient resources); and accountability. The Paris Principles and the elements highlighted in the UN Guidelines will be used to measure the potential impact of the Bill in operationalising the ZHRC and whether it will comply with international norms and standards for it to be regarded as independent. It is also important to note that a human rights commission which does not meet the requirements as set out in the Paris Principles will not be properly recognised in regional and international fora such as the African Union and the United Nations. This requires, therefore, that serious attention be paid to ensuring compliance with the Paris Principles so that the ZHRC can participate in and benefit fully from interaction with its peers in the region and globally.

One key issue which has not been addressed at all in the current Bill is the role of the ZHRC in elections. In light of the current political processes and developments and the importance of providing mechanisms for effective electoral dispute resolution, conflict prevention, management and resolution, it is vital that this area of debate and the roles and responsibilities of the ZHRC in such process is addressed within the legislation. This will allow the ZHRC to contribute in a positive and effective manner towards the holding of free, fair and genuine elections in which the will of the people is respected.

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