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Human Rights Commission Bill Gazetted - Bill Watch 23/2011
Veritas
June 13, 2011

The Human Rights Commission Bill was gazetted on Friday 10th June 2011. The gazetting came the day before the SADC Extraordinary Summit on Zimbabwe in South Africa. Note: One of the Roadmap to Elections items agreed by the GPA political parties is the enactment of the Human Rights Commission Bill.

Under normal Parliamentary procedure the Bill is now automatically referred to the House of Assembly portfolio committee on Justice, Legal Affairs, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs. The portfolio committee must promptly consider the Bill and prepare a report for presentation at the Bill’s Second Reading in the House. The committee has the power to call for evidence from the public on any Bill, and it is expected to do so in this case, and to hold public hearings for this important Bill. In terms of Standing Orders the responsible Minister, the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, is permitted to present the Bill to either the Senate or the House of Assembly 14 days after its gazetting so the Bill could receive its First Reading as early as Tuesday 28th June. Interested individuals and organisations should therefore waste no time in presenting their views to the Portfolio Committee – and, if they believe any of the Bill’s provisions infringe the Constitution – to the Parliamentary Legal Committee.

There have been huge delays on this long awaited Bill. A Human Rights Commission Bill was promised by President Mugabe when he opened the second session of the present Parliament in October 2009. The session came to an end in July 2010 without the Bill having been presented. The promise was repeated in the President’s speech opening the present session in July 2010. Whether the Bill can be passed before the looming end of the present parliamentary session, if parliamentary and public hearing are held, is doubtful; and it would be very unsatisfactory if it was fast tracked. It is, however, hoped that now, with SADC pressure, the Bill will go through early in the next Parliamentary session which usually starts towards the end of July.

Background

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission is established by section 100R of the Constitution, which:

  • provides for the Commission’s size [chairperson and eight members, four of whom must be women] and method of appointment [by the President from a list of nominees submitted by Parliament’s Committee on Standing Rules and Orders]
  • outlines the Commission’s functions [promotion of human rights awareness and development, monitoring and assessing human rights observance in Zimbabwe, investigating alleged violations of human rights, and assisting the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs to prepare reports on Zimbabwe’s compliance with international human rights agreements to which Zimbabwe is a party]
  • provides for the Commission’s information-gathering powers and its interaction with the Public Protector’s office
  • authorises the enactment of an Act of Parliament to elaborate on the Commission’s powers of investigation and to empower it to secure or provide appropriate redress for violations of human rights and injustice.

Section 100R was enacted as part of Constitution Amendment No. 19, which came into force on 13th February 2009. [The section replaced a previous constitutional provision for a Human Rights Commission, dating from 2005, that had not been implemented by the previous Government.]

Delays in appointing Commission members

The setting-up of the Commission has been beset by delay. Parliament took its time completing its procedures for the selection of nominees for appointment to the Commission by the President. Its list only went to the President’s Office on 12th October 2009. The names of the individuals to be appointed were announced just before Christmas 2009, but the members were only sworn in by President Mugabe at State House on Wednesday 31st March 2010. At that point a mistake came to light: there were only three women members instead of the minimum of four women required by the Constitution; one of the male members later resigned to allow this error to be corrected, but the appointment of the fourth woman member has still not been announced.

Commission still not operational

Although Commission members were sworn in on 31st March 2010 the Commission has not commenced operations. The reasons given were:

  • it was not properly constituted. Once the unconstitutional extra man had resigned there was a vacancy. But the fourth woman, although she has been selected, has not yet been appointed, and she will have to be sworn in by the President. It is hoped that in future a vacancy on the Commission does slow down its work.
  • the Government’s failure to put in place an “enabling Act”, i.e., an Act of Parliament to fill the gaps left by the bare bones of the Constitutional provision. Although there are enough guidelines in section 100R of the Constitution to enable the Commission to work out its brief and make plans, the enabling Act will cover such practical matters as the Commission’s legal status, the remuneration and conditions of service of commission members, its supporting staff and finances, procedures for carrying out investigations and so on.

In the meantime the Commissioners have been meeting informally and travelling to other countries to see how their Human Rights Commissions operate.

To Prevent Further Delays

There is need to lobby to ensure that:

  • the enabling Bill goes through Parliament – with the best possible provisions, taking into account the polarisation in the country – this means making submissions to Parliament and attending public hearings and making submissions
  • at the same time a sufficient budget is found to enable the Commission to operate in practice – instead of just being a paper tiger as a sop to SADC.

Summary and Comment on the Bill to Follow

Veritas makes every effort to ensure reliable information, but cannot take legal responsibility for information supplied

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