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Human Rights Commission Bill now at committee stage with amendments - Bill Watch 14/2012
Veritas
March 28, 2012

Both Houses of Parliament are sitting all this week

Human Rights Commission Bill in House of Assembly: Committee Stage today, 28th March

Summary of Background

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission was sworn in on 31st March 2010. Minister Chinamasa, as Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, is responsible for the Commission. Although some of the duties of the commission are spelled out in the Constitution, an enabling act was needed to provide for the structure, functions, funding, etc of the Commission. The Bill was drafted by the Minister, after prolonged consultations with the three parties to the Inclusive Government. It was gazetted on 10th June 2011 and immediately referred to the House of Assembly Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal, Affairs, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs. The committee conducted public hearings on the Bill around the country; most were disrupted by violence, including the final hearing in Parliament itself. The Minister brought the Bill before the House for its First Reading on 12th July 2011 [a formality not involving any debate or vote] and it was referred the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC]. The PLC returned a non-adverse report, conditional on amendments being made to the Bill as agreed between the PLC and the Minister. The Second Reading stage started on 31st August 2011, when the Minister explained the principles of the Bill and the Portfolio Committee’s report was presented. The end of the Third Session of Parliament then intervened, and the Bill lapsed along with all other pending business. The Bill was resuscitated by resolution of the House of Assembly on 20th March, proceedings to continue from the stage reached in August last year.

Yesterday in the House

Second Reading debate concluded

The House devoted most of yesterday afternoon’s sitting to completing the Second Reading debate on the Bill. Backbenchers made further contributions and the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs then wound up the debate with his concluding speech. The Bill was then read for the second time, which means that it will now move on to the next stage, which is the Committee Stage.

Today in the House

Committee Stage due this afternoon

The Committee Stage is expected to start this afternoon, but only after Question Time, which should run until just after 4 pm. This is the stage during which the Bill is examined and discussed clause by clause and amendments to the Bill can be made.

Minister’s proposed amendments

The Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs has given notice of his intention to move amendments, most of which are amendments he agreed with the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] during the last session to avoid the PLC returning an adverse report on the Bill. [See Bill Watch 41/2011 of 7th October 2011 for a detailed discussion.] The proposed amendments are as follows:

Notice of Amendments

Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill, 2011 (H.B. 2,2011)

AMENDMENTS OF CLAUSE 1 (“SHORT TITLE”)

On page 5 of the Bill, delete clause 1 on lines 9 and 10 and substitute the following:

“1 Short title

This Act may be cited as the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Act [Chapter 10:30].”

AMENDMENT OF CLAUSE 2 (“INTERPRETATION”)

On page 5 of the Bill, in the definition of “human rights violation”, delete the proviso thereto between lines 36 and 38.

On page 6 of the Bill, delete the definition of “visitor” between lines 10 and 12.

SUBSTITUTION OF CLAUSE 4 (“FUNCTIONS OF COMMISSION”)

On page 6 of the Bill, delete clause 4 and substitute the following:

“4 Additional functions of Commission

In addition to the functions and powers set out in section 100R(6) and (7) of the Constitution, the Commission shall have the following functions and powers-

(a) to conduct investigations on its own initiative or on receipt of complaints;

(b) to visit and inspect prisons, places of detention, refugee camps and related facilities in order to ascertain the condition 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 facilities;

(c) to visit and inspect 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

(d) to ensure and provide appropriate redress for violations of human rights and for injustice;

(e) to co-operate with Human Rights Institutions belonging to international, Continental or Regional organisations of which Zimbabwe is a member.”

AMENDMENT OF CLAUSE 6 (“EXECUTIVE SECRETARY AND OTHER STAFF OF COMMISSION AND CONSULTANTS)

On page 7 of the Bill, in subsection (1) of this clause, delete paragraph (b) between lines 4 and 7 and substitute:

“(b) employ such other staff as maybe necessary for the proper exercise of its functions, and engage consultants where necessary:

Provided that the Commission shall consult the Minister and the Minister responsible for Finance on the extent to which additional public moneys may be required for this purpose.”

On page 7 of the Bill, insert after the end of subclause (1) on line 7 the following subclause, and renumber the subsequent subclauses (2), (3) and (4) as subclauses (3), (4) and (5) accordingly:

“(2) In order for a person to be appointed as Executive Secretary of the Commission, he or she must -

(a) be qualified to be appointed as a judge of the High Court or the Supreme Court; or

(b) have a graduate or postgraduate qualification in human rights law or humanitarian law or a related discipline.”

AMENDMENT OF CLAUSE 9 (“JURISDICTION OF COMMISSION TO CONDUCT INVESTIGATIONS”)

On page 8 of the Bill, in subclause (4)(a), delete in lines 24 and 25 the words “the aggrieved person was a citizen, resident or visitor of Zimbabwe at the time when the action or omission complained of occurred and”.

AMENDMENT OF CLAUSE 10 (“MANNER OF MAKING COMPLAINTS”)

On page 8 of the Bill, in subclause (1), delete in line 42 the words “in that notice” and substitute “in those regulations”.

AMENDMENT OF CLAUSE 12(“MANNER OF CONDUCTING INVESTIGATIONS”)

On pages 9 and 10 of the Bill delete subclause (6) and substitute the following subclause:-

“(6) The Minister may, at any stage during the investigation of a complaint by the commission, to produce to the Commission a certificate in writing signed by him or her to the effect that the disclosure of any evidence or documentation or class of evidence or documentation or class of evidence or documentation specified in the certificates is, in his or her opinion, contrary to the public interest on the grounds that it may prejudice the defence, external relations, internal security or economic interests of the state , whereupon the Commission shall make arrangements for evidence relating to that matter to be heard in camera at a closed hearing and shall take such other action as may be necessary or expedient to prevent the disclosure of that matter.”

On page 10 of the Bill, in subclause (7), delete in line 7 the word “notice” and substitute “certificate”.

On page 10 of the Bill, in the subclause (7) (b), delete in lines 13 and 15 the word “notice” and substitute “certificates”.

On page 10 of the Bill, insert after subclause (8), the following subclause:

“(9) For the avoidance of doubt it is declared that the law relating to the competence or compellability of any person on the grounds of privilege to give evidence, answer any questions or produce any book or document before the Commission, shall apply.”

Renumber the subsequent subclause (9) as subclause (10) accordingly.

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