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Parliamentary Roundup Bulletin No. 25 - 2011
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
August 31, 2011


Both Houses of Parliament met yesterday transacted some business against expectations that the sitting would be a formality since the official opening of the session had been deferred from 23 August to 6 September 2011. The House of Assembly debated the second reading of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill while the Senate wound up Committee Reports which were presented in the House during the course of the 3rd Session.

House of Assembly Plenary

The Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Hon. Chinamasa outlined principles of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill, H.B. 2 ¡V 2011. He pointed to the House that the Bill took long to come before parliament because of extensive consultations that he had to do with various stakeholders. Hon. Chinamasa informed the House that in addition to the functions given in Section 100R, the Commission will have the following functions;

  • to conduct investigations on its own initiative or on receipt of complaints
  • to visit and inspect prisons, places of detention, refugee camps and related facilities in order to ascertain the conditions under which inmates are kept there, and to make recommendations regarding those conditions to the Minister responsible for administering the law relating to those places or detention facilities;
  • to visit places where mentally disordered or intellectually handicapped persons are detained under any law in order to ascertain the conditions under which those persons are kept there, and to make recommendations regarding those conditions to the minister responsible for administering the law relating to those places; and,
  • to secure or provide appropriate redress for violations of human rights and injustices.

Hon. Chinamasa has proposed further amendments to the Bill, based on concerns raised by the Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC).

The Chairman of the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon. Douglas Mwonzora presented the Committee¡¦s report on the bill. The report was compiled based on the views expressed by the public at the public hearings that the committee conducted around the country. Hon. Mwonzora condemned disruptions of the Committee¡¦s public hearings in Chinhoyi, Masvingo, Mutare and Harare by some unrowdy elements. Public hearings in Gweru, Bulawayo and Gwanda were successfully conducted. He informed the House that despite the above-mentioned disruptions, the Committee managed to gather valuable public input through oral and written submissions even in those areas where the public hearings were disrupted.

Members of the public raised reservations on the following clauses of the Bill;

  • On Clause 2 regarding the interpretation of terms, especially the definition of human rights violation, Committee felt that the definition is unreasonably narrow and restrictive. The Committee therefore recommended that the definition should be broadened to include rights contained in regional and international instruments to which Zimbabwe is a party.
  • On Clause 4, the Committee gathered that the functions of the Commission as set in the bill were only limited to promotional activities and did not confer the Commission with the protective mandate. Thus the Committee recommended that the functions and mandate of the ZHRC must be elaborated and widened in order to comply with the Paris Principles. It should not have a closed set of functions. The functions should be expanded to include the protective mandate.
  • On Clause 5, the Committee gathered that the appointment of the Deputy Chairperson of the Commission should be done by the Commissioners themselves rather than the executive, as this eroded the independence of the Commission. The same concern applies to Clause 6 regarding the recruitment of the Executive secretary, other staff of the Commission and consultants.
  • Regarding the independence and impartiality of the Commission and commissioners, the Committee felt that this should be provided for in the constitution because of a constitutional provision is more durable than an Act of Parliament.
  • On Clause of 8, regarding the Reports of the Commission, the Committee strongly felt the requirement for the Commission to submit an annual report to the Minister would stifle the Commission¡¦s independent. Hence the Committee recommended that this provision should be amended so that the Commission submits its annual reports directly to parliament.
  • On Clause 9(4)(a), regarding the jurisdiction of the Commission to conduct investigations, especially the specified period within which complaints must be filed to the Commission (3 years), the Committee argued that that period was too restrictive. The Committee therefore recommended that the same provisions in the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act Chapter 9:07, which provides for the prescription period of 20 years should be adopted. The three years period in the Bill is too short considering that some human rights violations such as torture, are too sensitive and the victim might require more than three years to recover from the traumatic effects by the time the victims tries to pursue recourse, he will already be barred by the operation of the law.
  • Regarding the provision that the Commission shall not investigate human rights violations that occurred prior to the 13th February 2009, the Committee gathered that most of the people were of the view that the Commission should start investigating cases of human rights violations dating back to 1980 when Zimbabwe gained its independence. However others expressed that the Commission should not investigate human rights violations which occurred earlier than 13 February 2009 since this could open up old wounds and seriously jeopardize the process of nation building. The Committee recommended that the proviso to clause 9(4) (a) should be reconsidered in order to give the Commission a retrospective mandate.
  • On Clause 12, the Committee viewed notice by the Minister to the Commission and the complainant prohibiting the disclosure by or to the Commission of evidence as an unnecessary intrusion on the Commission's independence, impartiality and transparency. The Commission should be guided by the law on admissibility of such evidence. Hence the Committee recommended that the clause gave the Minister of Justice the discretion to refuse information to the Commission on the basis of such information being prejudicial to state interests needed to be reviewed by either specifically defining the “state interests” since these could be loosely interpreted to mean anything the Minister so wished, or by removing that provision totally.

Debate on the second reading of the Bill continues this afternoon. By the look of things, the Minister of Justice is determined to fast-track the Bill in the House of Assembly today before the House adjourns in preparation of the official opening of the 4th Session of the 7th Parliament on Tuesday 6 September 2011.

It is anticipated that the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Hon. Chinamasa will introduce further amendments to the Bill based on the observations of the Justice Portfolio Committee’s observations and recommendations.

Senate Plenary

The Senate adopted 4 Committee Reports in its sitting yesterday, namely;

  • First Report of the Thematic Committee on Human Rights on the State of Prisons and Prisoners (S.C. 5, 2011).
  • First Report of the Thematic Committee on Millennium Development Goals on Social Protection Programmes (S.C. 9, 2011).
  • First Report of the Thematic Committee on HIV and AIDS on the access to treatment

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