‘Truth commission essential for national healing’

Paidamoyo Muzulu

THE Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) has said that for national healing to take place in Zimbabwe, there should be a truth and reconciliation commission that has powers to bring perpetrators of violence during the 2008 elections to book.

 

The report titled “National Healing and Reconciliation in Zimbabwe: Challenges and Opportunities” was produced by Pamela Machakanja.

The IJR contributes to the building of fair, democratic and inclusive societies in Africa before, during and after political transition.

The IJR report argued that true reconciliation could not occur when the truths about past wrongs are not told.

It said truth-telling encouraged the verification of past repressive actions and incidents by individuals and government.

“The paper further argues that it is only after truth-seeking initiatives have taken place, that willingness to seek justice based on people’s understandings of what happened to them can be achieved. Thus, it is important that the state takes concrete policy actions to demonstrate a break with the past and build a future based on respect for human rights and rule of law,” the report said.

In pursuit of reconciliation and peace, the three feuding political parties signed a Global Political Agreement on September 15 2008 that among other things called for national healing.

Consequently, the National Healing and Reconciliation Organ was set up, co-chaired by three ministers from parties to the agreement.
The report argued that the Zimbabwean situation raised a number of questions on how justice could be served while at the same time promoting reconciliation.

“The Zimbabwean case highlights the importance of critically examining the relevance of instituting transitional justice systems with a view to making informed choices about achieving a balance between comprehensive processes of restorative justice and retributive justice systems,” said the report.

Machakanja in the report argued that whatever form of transitional justice was chosen, there was need for a clear and credible account of the past involving acknowledgement for past violations as a process of facilitating individual and national healing and reconciliation.

The report also cited 12 conditions necessary for successful reconciliation and national healing. Among them were legislative reforms, political will, transformative and restorative justice and civil society engagement.

“The National Healing and Reconciliation Commission would have to be secured by a bill passed through Parliament and enacted into an act of law. Such an act would allow the commission the discretion to: establish the time periods to be covered by the Commission’s investigations; determine the nature of human rights abuses to be investigated; determine the social and economic effects of the abuses including recommending preventive and health promoting approaches, assessment, counselling, healing programmes and community interventions,” the report said.

It further argued that the quality and credibility of the work of the Commission and the legitimacy of its outcomes would largely depend on how independent it is and the calibre of the Commissioners.

The political will to promote genuine reconciliation was paramount, the report said. Raking past atrocities and human rights abuses is an excruciating exercise. If badly managed, the exercise could backfire, and further widen the chasm in an already politically-fractured nation, noted the report.
It said a successful national healing and reconciliation process required meaningful engagement of civil society and the public at large.

“This is because a process aimed at responding to people’s needs must necessarily involve the people affected by the conflict, especially at grassroots level. In this context, civil society organisations can play a vital role in monitoring the implementation of the reconciliation and healing processes,” the report said.

It concluded by saying restorative justice was an option that could be pursued and the country should also be concerned about moving forward and creating real peace among its citizens.

“Whilst retributive and restorative justice systems have their merits and demerits, there has to be a proper consideration with a view to moving the country forward amidst the specific circumstances in which it finds itself,” read the report.

“Zimbabwe needs to realise that national rebuilding and the creation of functional democratic institutions and systems cannot take place if the population remains deeply divided along political lines and human relations are plagued with fear, mistrust and suspicion.

“If fear and human insecurity are burdens of the past, then these create obstacles to the envisioned goal of reconciliation, national healing, social cohesion and nation building,” it concluded.