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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Talks, dialogue, negotiations and GNU - Post June 2008 "elections" - Index of articles

  • Civil society's role in reconstruction in Zimbabwe: Opportunities and imperatives
    Mandeep S.Tiwana, CIVICUS
    November 28, 2008

    As the negotiations for power sharing and reconstruction continue to be hammered out by various political groups in Zimbabwe, civil society-s role in construction and reconstruction of vital democratic institutions in the country cannot be discounted.

    Some key areas for civil society involvement in the country are: ensuring participation of women in the peace and rebuilding process; security and criminal justice sector reform; establishment of national institutions for accountability and human rights protection; and setting the agenda for legislative and electoral reform.

    UN Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000 by the world-s most powerful decision making body, calls upon member states and all other parties including non-state actors such as militias, humanitarian agencies and civil society groups to ensure participation of women in decision making and peace processes as well as inclusion of gender perspectives in training and peace keeping.

    Although the situation in Zimbabwe differs greatly from Liberia, experiences from there could be helpful in formulating strategies for construction and reconstruction. Tired of the seemingly endless cycles of violence, women-s organizations played an extremely important role in bringing the warring parties to the negotiation table in Liberia. The Women in Peace Building Network arranged meetings between the then government and the rebel leaders. They also mobilized to ensure large-scale participation of women in the 2005 election, which led to the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as the first democratically elected female head of state of Africa. Key positions in Sirleaf-s cabinet are occupied by qualified women who are helping maintain the peace and stability of Liberia.

    Restoring the independence of the judiciary is also a crucial imperative for Zimbabwe. The role of judges at the apex of the criminal justice system is vital not only to ensure the return of the country to constitutional processes but also to guarantee the proper performance of the police and the prisons services. The International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights (INTERIGHTS) has helped in capacity building of the judiciary in many countries of the Commonwealth - with whom Zimbabwe shares a common legal tradition - through judicial colloquiums.

    Experiences from Northern Ireland and South Africa in respect of criminal justice sector reform upon signing of the peace agreements are especially relevant to Zimbabwe. In Northern Ireland, after the 'Good Friday/ Belfast- agreement of 1998 set the tone for a wide ranging review of criminal justice system, an independent Criminal Justice Inspectorate was set up in Northern Ireland to review various aspects of the system. Civil society organizations, particularly the Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ) have played a key role in monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the Good Friday/ Belfast agreement on policing and criminal justice reform as well as equality and human rights provisions.

    In South Africa, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and the Institute for Security Studies assisted in the process of reconstitution of the apartheid era South African Police. Civil society played a key role in addressing the monumental challenges for policing in South Africa and helped provide a blue print for reform and training including on how to build positive relationships with the community through community police forums, which are institutionalized through the Police Act. Another area where civil society played an important role was in providing the intellectual expertise to restructure the police and building within it a democratic ethos to serve to protect rather than impede freedoms.

    Any long lasting hope for stability and good governance in Zimbabwe has to be underpinned by both strong and independent oversight institutions. Civil society-s role is extremely important in the establishment of relevant institutions and in ensuring that they draw upon international best practice. Also the independence of national institutions is best ensured when there is scope for civil society involvement in their work. In Malawi, for instance, the constitution mandates the appointment of human rights commissioners out of a list of nominees provided by civil society organizations involved in the promotion of constitutional rights and freedoms. Civil society- role will be crucial in ensuring that the right kind of people are appointed to the office of the Ombudsman or anti-corruption commission, as well as in lobbying for the mandate of these institutions to be included in the new Constitution.

    For long the people of Zimbabwe have suffered under repressive anti-democratic legislation. Principal among these are the Access to Information and the Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA). One role of civil society is to build public opinion to pressure the legislature to repeal these laws. At another level, it is imperative for civil society to engage with parliamentarians to bring through laws that will enable the exercise of democratic rights and encourage greater transparency and accountability in governance. In India, the Right to Information Act was legislated primarily due to the efforts of the National Campaign for the Right to Information (NCPRI), a group of individuals - many of whom are civil society leaders - joined by a common commitment to good governance. The NCPRI is presently engaging in monitoring implementation of freedom of information legislation.

    Importantly, the future of Zimbabwe will also be secured through a people-driven constitution. Civil society has an important role to play in advising on different constitutional and electoral models for adoption.

    In the coming days, civil society will have to step up efforts to ensure that the peace agreement holds and that the window of opportunity to secure the future of Zimbabwe remains alive for its people.

    * Mandeep S.Tiwana is CIVICUS Civil Society Watch Programme Officer

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