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legislative business awaits Parliament on resumption of sitting
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
March 05, 2012
There are reports
that the principals have agreed to do away with the proposed polling
station based voters’ roll in the Bill.
While this is a welcome development, we await to see what other
proposed amendments by the committee will be taken on board by the
Executive. The Bill still needs to be adjusted in order to have
a good enabling law for elections. Some of the areas of concern
include restrictions on funding for voter education by civic groups,
executive dominance on the Observer Accreditation Committee, failure
to give ZEC sole and exclusive responsibility for the registration
of voters and the maintenance of the voters roll, absence of provisions
to ensure the courts expedite dispute resolution, lack of specific
punitive sanctions against media firms that do not provide fair
media coverage to all political parties and barring of Diaspora
Human Rights Commission Bill is now generally a good piece of
legislation that should easily pass in Parliament
after the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs agreed to accommodate
some of the reservations from the Justice Portfolio Committee, Parliamentary
Legal Committee, civic society and interest groups. In an unprecedented
show of unity, the House of Assembly last year refused to fast-track
the Bill despite attempts by political parties represented in Parliament
to whip their members into line.
The main recommendations
arising from the work of the Justice Portfolio Committee and Parliamentary
Legal Committee included widening the scope of human rights violations
to cover all issues covered by international human rights instruments
to which Zimbabwe is a party; non-interference by Ministers in the
appointment and disciplining of Commission staff members; submission
of Commission reports directly to Parliament and not via the Minister
of Justice; granting the Commission retrospective mandate in its
investigations and not begin from 13th February 2009; and revisiting
clause which gives the Minister of Justice power to refuse information
to the Commission on the basis of such information being prejudicial
to “state interests”. The committee recommended that
such “state interests” should be clearly defined or
the provision removed totally as it was open to abuse.
From these recommendations,
Minister Chinamasa agreed to revisit the definition of human rights
violation to include those violations relating to an international
human rights instrument even if the law domesticating such instrument
did not expressly confer jurisdiction on the Commission. The import
of the previous definition was that what amounted to a human rights
violation would not be the subject matter of the Commission’s
work simply on account of the fact that the legal instrument concerned
was silent that the Commission can investigate that matter.
The other issue that Minister Chinamasa agreed to address relates
to visitors to Zimbabwe. The Bill defined “visitor”
in a very restrictive manner such that certain categories of persons
who would be in Zimbabwe, could have their rights violated without
legal redress. The Commission would equally be constrained to investigate
their matters on account of the restrictive definition. With the
proposed amendment, foreigners can now make a complaint to the Commission
if their rights are violated while in Zimbabwe.
proposed to amend clause 6, which originally provided for the appointment
of the Executive Secretary to the Commission in consultation with
the ministers responsible for Justice and of Finance. This was viewed
as an improper and unnecessary intrusion into the independence of
the Commission by the Executive. It is proposed to amend this clause
by simply describing the qualifications of the Executive Secretary.
This therefore leaves the Commission to determine its staffing issues
without external interference.
climb down is on Clause 12 which empowered the Minister of Justice
to bar the disclosure of certain evidence either by the Commission
or by the complainant in the “public interest”. This
clause gave the Minister too much power and an unnecessary intrusion
into the operational independence of the Commission. The proposed
amendment is for such evidence which is in the “public interest”
to be received in camera.
taken on board by the Minister relate to the removal of commissioners,
presentation of reports, mobilizing of funds and the retrospective
mandate of the Commission in its investigations. We wait to see
what other changes will be made during the committee stage when
the Bill is considered clause by clause.
The other pieces
of legislation related to the electoral process that Parliament
should tackle include the private member
bill to amend the Urban
Councils Act which has since been gazetted, the private member
bill to amend the Public
Order and Security Act, which is currently stuck in the Senate
and a private member bill to amend Section 121 of the Criminal
Procedure and Evidence Act. Of course there will be the important
Constitutional Bill to be debated and approved by Parliament.
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