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Parliamentary Roundup Bulletin No. 12– 2012
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
March 23, 2012

Introduction

The Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Senator Patrick Chinamasa appeared before the Thematic Committee on Human Rights on Thursday 22 March 2012 to brief the Committee on progress regarding the ratification and domestication of international human rights instruments and the submission of country reports to international bodies. In plenary, both Houses continued debating motions that were already on the Order Paper.

Summary of Minister Chinamasa’s Oral Evidence to the Committee

Ratification and Domestication:

The Minister informed the Committee that it was difficult to ascertain which international instruments had been ratified or not because of lack of reliable records. He indicated that his Ministry was looking for resources to carry out a comprehensive study on the status of all the instruments in order to ascertain which instruments have been signed but not ratified and which instruments have been ratified but not domesticated. The Committee heard that when he was the Attorney General, the Minister tried to come up with a register of the treaties in force in Zimbabwe and the treaties that where signed but were yet to be ratified and/or domesticated. The exercise fell behind time due to lack of an updating mechanism and also because of resource constraints. The Minister, however, indicated that Foreign Affairs bears the responsibility of coming up with and maintaining a record of treaties.

The Minister said that though his Ministry has an overall oversight on the issue of ratification, most of the instruments come under line Ministries as implementing agencies. Where such is the case, the Minister indicated that he defers to the line Ministry. For example, on matters dealing with children’s rights, the Health and Child Welfare Ministry is the implementing agency.

Hon. Chinamasa argued that the domestication process was not as simple and straight forward as it was made out to be. The Committee heard that resources would be needed to appoint consultants who would study the international instruments and compare the norms derived therefrom with our domestic legislation. Only when gaps are found in the law will there be a need for domestication. He was confident that the study could actually reveal that some of the norms may already have been enacted into domestic legislation. As an example, the Minister indicated that changes that had been made and proposed to the electoral laws had adopted most of the international norms available. He further indicated that Zimbabwe was the only country in SADC to adopt the SADC guidelines, which would all mean that ratifying instruments on elections would be a mere formality. In addition, the study would also need to check on the reservations that were made when the instrument was signed.

The Minister indicated that he would set up another date to appear before the Committee to give feedback on the recommendations made on Zimbabwe’s country report and on the progress made in coming up with a list of international instruments that the Committee had asked for.

Country Reports

Regarding country reports, the Minister indicated that he had arrived the previous night from Geneva, where they were conducting the final stage of the country’s report to the UN Human Rights Council. The reports are made once every four years and Zimbabwe submitted its report in October last year. Once the report is submitted, Member countries study the report and make recommendations on how the reporting country can improve its human rights situation. For Zimbabwe, the Minister indicated that about 177 recommendations were made, but the country only agreed to implement 133. As such, the next four years, until the next report is due, will be focused on implementing the recommendations that Zimbabwe committed itself to. For example, the Convention against Torture (CAT) was one of the recommendations that was made. The Minister indicated that he would be making representations to Cabinet before bringing the Convention for ratification to Parliament in due course.

Human Rights Commission and Electoral Amendment Bill

Responding to a question on the status of the Human Rights Commission Bill, the Minister indicated that he had made attempts just after the GNU formation to push through Human Rights Commission Bill, but his efforts were thwarted as parties to Global Political Agreement (GPA) the felt they needed more time to scrutinize the Bill. The negotiations took 18 months which culminated in the gazetting of the Bill. However, the Minister said he was surprised to see other parties backtracking on the positions they had agreed to during negotiations. He said the same fate visited the Electoral Amendment Bill.

Conditions of Prisons and Prisoners

Minister Chinamasa indicated that his Ministry had engaged a consultant to study how the conditions in prison and of prisoners can be improved. The consultancy focused on infrastructural as well as prisoners’ condition like diet, clothing, visits by relatives, and treatment of prisoners, among other things. He said the report recommendations would be presented before Cabinet for approval.

Plenary Proceedings in the House of Assembly

The House continued with debate on some motions which were previously debated. Hon. Heya Shoko (MDC-T Bikita West) while debating on the motion in reply to the Presidential Speech angered ZANU PF Members when he referred to newly resettled farmers as “land grabbers”. He accused ZANU PF leaders for failing to settle their electricity bills yet they claimed to be productive on their farms. In direct retaliation, Hon. Bright Matonga (ZANU PF Mhondoro-Ngezi) accused Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai for “double dipping” for receiving funds from the central bank and treasury for the renovation of his house.

Debate on the First Report of the Portfolio Committee on Education Arts Sport and Culture regading the provision of school text books under the Education Transition Fund took a different dimension yesterday. All most all the Members that debated on this motion dismissed allegations of impropriety against the Minister of Education and UNICEF as a case of sour grapes. They argued that the country should be grateful that the objective of the project was achieved at minimal costs and now the pupil-text book ratio has greatly improved from 45:1 to 1:1. They also attributed the 30% increase in schools pass rate to the provision of these text books.

Regarding the motion on the leave to bring in a Bill to amend section 121(3) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, Members noted that the previous Attorney Generals rarely used that section. But it has been used on numerous occasions by the current Attorney General, Mr. Johannes Tomana. They said this was adequate proof that the legislation was being used out of malice to target perceived opponents of ZANU PF.

Plenary Proceedings in the Senate

The Senate had the occasion to pose impromptu questions on the indigenization and empowerment policy to the Minister of Youth Development, Indigenization and Empowerment, Hon. Saviour Kasukuwere. He explained to the Senate the objectives of the policy and what has been achieved so far.

Resumption of Sitting

Both House will be sitting next week Tuesday.

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