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  • Post-election violence 2008 - Index of articles & images

  • Interrogating the call for a truth-seeking enquiry by Zimbabwe's Parliament
    Tendai Chabvuta
    November 11, 2008

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    There have been calls for the establishment of a commission of enquiry into the violence that engulfed Zimbabwe around the ill - fated 29 March Harmonised Elections and the botched 27 June Run Off Presidential Run Off election. It is no longer news that there were serious and massive human rights violations largely state sponsored which led to deaths, torture, and violations on both men and women of a sexual nature among other violations. A motion for these investigations was officially moved in Parliament by Innocent Gonese, MP for Mutare Central in the MDC T faction.

    In the past, numerous calls have been made before by human rights organisations, Zimbabweans and other interested stakeholders for such investigations to be carried. These calls have not been just for this epoch of violence but also for many others that have occurred in Zimbabwe-s history. Whilst critical, this latest motion is interesting in a number of ways and raises a number of fundamental issues that will be pertinent if ever this exercise will see the light of the day. The first question that comes to the fore is on the time frame and specificity with which the call has been made. A call for an investigation into just this particular epoch would look almost foolhardy because it seems self - serving for the current MDC Parliamentarians. At face value and without any clear explanation it would look as if the other epochs of violence have been ignored for unspecified reasons. A truth seeking exercise of such a magnitude being called for by the MDC (assuming that the MDC T as a party agreed to this motion) is inherently vulnerable to politically imposed limitations as structure, sponsor, mandate, political support, financial or staff resources, access to information and political willingness. These issues will be discussed in this paper.

    Judging from a positivist approach it would seem that propelling this motion would offer a unique opportunity for Zimbabwe to go through its past of human rights violations. This motion creates an expectation that 'a comprehensive truth- about the human rights violations attendant on the two 2008 elections will be known. Moreover, an expectation that the corollary retributive, restorative justices, rehabilitation, lustration, institutional reform and reconciliation will follow is also created for the many victims now in despair because of the culture of impunity in Zimbabwe.

    Taking from the same positivist approach truth-seeking processes can contribute to the achievement of accountability. Truth seeking exercises can an important precursor to judicial action, working as an intermediate step for states not ready to endorse full-scale prosecutions such as Zimbabwe. As the commission of the Former Yugoslavia illustrates, the authoritative report of a truth seeking process can help muster the political will necessary for taking the next step toward bringing perpetrators to justice. Rather than displacing or replacing justice in the courts, a commission may sometimes help contribute to accountability for perpetrators. Numerous truth commissions and truth - seeking processes pass their files on to the prosecuting authorities, and where there is a functioning judicial system, sufficient evidence, and sufficient political will, trials may result. The first well-known truth inquiry, Argentina-s National Commission on the Disappeared, was popularly understood to be a preliminary step toward prosecutions that would follow, and indeed the information from this commission was critical to later trials. The unfortunate part is that Zimbabwe does not have any of these pre conditions in existence to support such justice initiatives.

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