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New government to cripple human rights commission
Edgar Gweshe, The Zimbabwean
September 11, 2013

Zanu-PF looks set to weaken the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) to avoid embarrassment because most abuse cases are rooted in that party’s culture of violence, analysts have said.

Established in 2009, the ZHRC has yet to start work in earnest due to low funding and lack of capacity.

Prof Reginald Austin, the commission’s founding chairman, quit last year citing a surfeit of operational challenges, including lack of staff, office space and staff, the absence of a political will and doubts about ZHRC’s independence.

Austin said the commission had “no budget, no accommodation, no mobility, no staff, and no implementing act or corporate legal status”. Zanu-PF is likely to keep this vital constitutional body in such a hopeless state to further its political interests, says Thabani Nyoni of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a civil society advocacy grouping.

After Austin’s departure, Jacob Mudenda took over. Mudenda, a staunch Zanu-PF loyalist and now Speaker of the House of Assembly, neither put together a secretariat nor followed-up on the issues Austin cited as cause of his departure.

“It is difficult to assess the work of a human rights commission that has not given a framework of how it is going to do its work,” Nyoni said. “The commitment of Zanu-PF to the observance of human rights is very questionable. For them, the issue of human rights is not a priority and this is worsened by the fact that most of the perpetrators are from Zanu-PF.”

Michael Mabwe, the spokesman for National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations said civil society must push the government to support the operations of various commissions. The view was shared by Okay Machisa, the ZimRights Director. He said that ZHRC has done nothing since its inception.

“You cannot work and produce meaningful results when you are not funded.

This is an institution which should be well fuelled from all angles but they have not been capacitated to produce meaningful results,” said Machisa.

Despite its mandate, resource constraints have rendered the ZHRC moribund.

The state must support the constitutional commission so that it can regain the people’s confidence. “If we do not have that, we will continue to have perpetrators of human rights abuses walking Scot-free,” said Machisa.

“Government has to invest in funding these commissions,” added Abel Chikomo, the Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

“Our expectations are that the government does not subvert these constitutional commissions. We expect the government to make sure that it empowers the human rights commission.”

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