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African solutions to African problems: African Commission’s human rights protection mandate
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
April 10, 2013

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum (the “Forum”) is currently represented at the 53rd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) which is taking place from 9th-23rd of April 2013, in Banjul, The Gambia. By way of background the ACHPR is an organization based in Banjul, The Gambia, and mandated by the African Union to hear human rights cases when member countries’ internal remedies have been exhausted or do not exist.

The Forum’s current attendance this year comes in the wake of recent judgements (communications) pertaining to Zimbabwe by this regional body. The first case relates to Beavan Kazingachire and Another, handled by the Forum. In this case, the Government of Zimbabwe was found to be in violation of Articles 1 and 4 of the African Charter by failing to protect its citizens from extra judicial killings as well as affording effective redress to the bereaved families.

In the second case handled by Redress Trust involving the torture of a prominent Zimbabwean human rights lawyer and activist, Gabriel Shumba, the African Commission ruled on the case in May 2012, and published its decision on 21 March 2013, finding the Government of Zimbabwe guilty of violating Article 5 (prohibition of torture and ill-treatment) of the African Charter. The Commission ordered the Government to pay compensation to Mr Shumba and to hold to account those responsible for torturing him.

The Forum’s attendance also comes in the wake of increasing international calls to strengthen regional human rights bodies. Recently during the 14th Session of the EU-NGO Forum on Human Rights in Brussels, where the Forum was represented, the importance of regional mechanisms was underscored as an effective tool to deal with the perpertuation of human rights violations under the cloack of cultural relativism to deny universal rights to citizens of the nations concerned.

With regard to universalism of human rights, the text of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, as adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights on 25 June 1993, in article 5, clearly states that all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis. While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The two cases of Gabriel Shumba and also that of Beavan Kazingachire and Another highlighted above, is a clear vindication that regional bodies such as the ACHPR are increasingly upholding the principle of universality of rights despite the fierce cultural relativism currently pervasive in the region. Cultural relativism in Africa is partly founded on religion and partly on deference to patriarchy and in the case of Zimbabwe deference to the founding fathers of African freedom. This, in our view, still stands as a formidable barrier to the full implementation of the Commission’s laudable decisions.

Faced with these barriers, the Forum has not been resting on its laurels but has been leading in various initiatives to ensure that universal rights are not only mainstreamed at the African Union and ACHPR levels but are protected through regional mechanisms. One such initiative has been the work by the African Court Coalition of which the Forum is the focal point in Southern Africa. The Coalition seeks to see an efficient and effective African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Court). In order to achieve this, the African Court Coalition advocates for the universal ratification of the Protocol establishing the African Court (the protocol).

The Coalition also advocates for the making of the declaration by State Parties under Article 34 (6) of the Protocol which allows for direct petitioning by individuals and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and to advocate for an independent and credible African Court including a transparent process for the nomination and election of judges to the African Court, which guarantees an equitable representation of the African judicial systems and gender parity in the nomination and election of judges.

On the side lines of the current ACHPR Session, the Forum has also been working tirelessly. It participated in the litigants group discussion and meetings, the first of which was an introduction to the Communication procedure and also the forum of NGOs where discussions focussed on the Commission’s protective mandate. The Forum also chaired a session of the thematic group on Prevention of Torture in Africa where experiences and best practices coming from the various countries represented where shared.

The meeting also came up with recommendations for the Commission which included encouraging state parties to legislate on torture as well as to implement the Robben island guidelines and also ensure access to places of detention. As a follow up, the Forum and other participants will be drafting a manual on best practices for practitioners.

Fort those who are interested in learning more on this and other general news, please visit our website. However if you are specifically interested in following African regional bodies jurisprudence, the case law database jointly built by Huridocs and by the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) would be useful. Although the database is not fully comprehensive yet, it is still the most comprehensive out there and much better accessible than the bodies' websites. Moreover, it allows you to filter by violated or referenced articles or carefully applied keywords.

Visit the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum fact sheet

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