THE complicity of MDC-T and Zanu PF MPs in rubber-stamping the contentious Electoral Act Amendment Bill and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) Bill by allowing Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa to push it through the crucial committee stage has come under fire.
The watered down bills sailed through the committee stage on Tuesday in time for the visit of South African President Jacob Zuma’s facilitation team expected next week, but the Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights say their passage must not hinder the country’s quest to investigate past atrocities.
Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe regional co-ordinator, Dewa Mavhinga, said the passage of the ZHRC Bill should not be the end of Zimbabwe’s quest to address state-sponsored atrocities of the past not covered by the bill.
“The ZHRC may have a mandate to investigate human rights abuses only from February 13 2009, but this must never be taken to mean impunity from past crimes, including 2008 political murders, criminal aspects of the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina as well as Gukurahundi,” said Mavhinga.
He said the MDC formations and parliament should have followed advice from UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to look at other mechanisms to address past atrocities.
“There must be a separate institutional set-up to deal with past abuses like a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, and this is what the MDC formations must insist on without compromise,” Mavhinga said.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights director Irene Petras concurred with Mavhinga saying experience from the region shows that there is a clear separation of institutions or instruments used to look into the past, on-going and future violations.
“However, this (ZHRC Bill passage) should not be used as a barrier to look into past atrocities and efforts should be sought to establish a mechanism to deal with the past,” said Petras.
However, Petras said they welcomed the ZHRC Bill passage as it would operationalise a commission that has been idle since 2010 when it was first set up.
MDC president and Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube last week told the Zimbabwe Independent that cabinet had agreed to steer through the two bills.
Ministers from both the MDC-T and Zanu PF turned up in parliament to ensure the backbenchers would not derail the cabinet-approved decision.
Chinamasa reminded the MPs, who have been reluctant to pass the bills for failing to address historical atrocities, that without a bipartisan approach all bills would not be approved by parliament to the detriment of the country.
“No one party can move the law by itself,” said Chinamasa. “This law may not satisfy all perspectives, but we have to move forward. We have to rise above our sectional interests and base instincts.”
MDC-T MPs led by Mbizo legislator Settlement Chikwinya had earlier torn into the clause restricting the ZHRC from investigating cases that occurred before February 2009, describing it as a deliberate ploy to shield Zanu PF functionaries from prosecution for atrocities committed since independence.
Chinamasa made minor concessions to sweeten the passage of the bills by agreeing to MDC-T Mutare Central MP Ian Gonese’s calls for the ZHRC Bill to allow the state to accept international treaties as part of domestic law once they have been ratified.