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  • Truth, justice, reconciliation and national healing - Index of articles

  • Truth, reconciliation and justice in Zimbabwe - ILO Commission of Inquiry report
    International Labour Organization (ILO)
    December 31, 2009

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    In November 2008, the Governing Body of the ILO decided to set up a Commission of Inquiry, in accordance with article 26, paragraph 4, of the ILO Constitution, to examine the complaints filed by a number of delegates to the Conference concerning the observance by the Government of Zimbabwe of Conventions Nos 87 and 98 on freedom of association. As recalled by the Director-General of the ILO at the inaugural session of the Commission, this was the first occasion on which a Commission of Inquiry had arisen out of simultaneous complaints from Workers' and Employers' delegates to the Conference. The complaints examined by the Commission of Inquiry referred in particular to serious allegations of violations of basic civil liberties, including the quasi-systematic arrest, detention, harassment and intimidation of trade union leaders and members for the exercise of legitimate trade union activities.The members of the Commission of Inquiry were: Judge Raymond Ranjeva (Madagascar, Chairperson), Dr Evance Kalula (Zambia) and Dr Bertrand Ramcharan(Guyana).

    In view of political developments leading to a Global Political Agreement, the Commission of Inquiry undertook a preliminary visit of goodwill and initial contacts to Zimbabwe in May 2009 to familiarize itself with the situation in the country following the establishment of the inclusive Government. The Commission explained to those whom it met that, while working in the judicial spirit that characterizes ILO Commissions of Inquiry, it was at the same time desirous of contributing to the process of reconciliation and healing in Zimbabwe. The Commission then undertook a full fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe in August 2009.

    The Report of the Commission of Inquiry, in addition to outlining the substance of the communications received, reviews the historical and socio-economic context of trade unionism in Zimbabwe, both during the period of colonization and white minority government, and following independence in 1980. It reports on the current socio-economic context in the country and reviews the national legislation in relation to freedom of association. It then summarizes the comments made by the ILO supervisory bodies over the years on the application of Conventions Nos 87 and 98 in Zimbabwe.

    The report summarizes the information on the factual matters investigated by the Commission relating to the systematic violation of freedom of association rights. More specifically, it discusses allegations concerning the right to strike and demonstrate; arrests, detentions, assaults and torture; intimidation and harassment of trade unionists and, in particular, teachers, farm workers and the business community; interference in trade union affairs and trade union discrimination; collective bargaining and social dialogue; and the institutional protection of trade union rights. It also considers statements concerning attempts at a healing and reconciliation process in Zimbabwe.

    In its conclusions, the Commission of Inquiry notes that, by and large, it found little disagreement between the complainants and the Government of Zimbabwe in relation to many of the allegations. The Government of Zimbabwe accepted that "things" had happened, that they were regrettable and that it was important to ensure that such "things" did not happen again. However, there was a certain amount of disagreement as to the extent of the regrettable events and their causes.

    The Commission of Inquiry concludes that there was systematic, and even systemic, violation of the Conventions in the country. It saw a clear pattern of arrests, detentions, violence and torture of trade union leaders and members by the security forces coinciding with Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) nationwide events, indicating some centralized direction to the security forces to take such action and a clear pattern of control over ZCTU trade union gatherings through the application of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). It noted the systematic targeting of ZCTU officials and members, particularly in rural areas, involving significant violence and anti-union discrimination in employment, in what appeared to be a calculated attempt to intimidate and threaten ZCTU members. It also noted with particular concern the routine use of the police and army against strikes, widespread interference in trade union affairs and the failure to guarantee judicial independence and the rule of law, resulting in a situation of impunity for those perpetrating atrocities.

    In its recommendations, the Commission of Inquiry therefore calls for:

    • the harmonization of the relevant legislative texts, and particularly the Labour Act, the Public Service Act and the Public Order and Security Act, with Conventions Nos 87 and 98, as requested by the ILO supervisory bodies;
    • the cessation with immediate effect of all anti-union practices, as documented in its report;
    • the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to be rendered operational as soon as possible, with adequate resources;
    • the provision of training on freedom of association and collective bargaining, civil liberties and human rights to key personnel in the country, most notably the police, security forces and the social partners;
    • the reinforcement of the rule of law and the role of the courts in Zimbabwe, by ensuring that the courts are respected, properly resourced and provided with appropriate training and support;
    • the continued strengthening of social dialogue; and
    • the continuation of ILO technical assistance in these areas.

    Finally, the Commission of Inquiry observes that it witnessed a country in deep crisis, which is facing the challenge of building a bridge from division and social tension to a peaceful and just future. The move towards truth, reconciliation and justice needs to be sustained and the Commission of Inquiry hopes that its report will contribute to this process. It expresses its firm belief in a positive future for Zimbabwe and affirms that the implementation of the two Conventions on freedom of association can pave the way to genuine democracy. And, in conclusion, it emphasizes that the rule of law, democracy and respect for human rights beckon the country to higher ground. Zimbabweans expect and deserve no less.

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