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Human Rights Commission in limbo

THE Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) set up under the Government of National Unity (GNU) to investigate human rights abuses is yet to start operating even as the coalition’s five-year term draws to a close on June 29.

Report by Herbert Moyo

Newly appointed ZHRC chairperson Jacob Mudenda said in an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent in Bulawayo on Tuesday his commission was still in limbo, but expressed confidence would commence work from the beginning of next month as significant headway has been made in recruiting more commissioners to ensure a quorum.

“We are still not fully constituted at the moment so whatever we do will be null and void but two more commissioners will be coming on board,” said Mudenda.

“The two were selected among many applicants and have appeared before the Standing Rules and Orders Committee of parliament. It is now up to minister (of Justice Patrick) Chinamasa to finalise the appointments as well as secure funding.”

For operational efficiency, Mudenda said ZHRC would divide the country into operational zones with a Harare regional office to cater for the country’s five northern provinces while a Bulawayo office would be set up to cover the other five southern provinces including Matabeleland, Masvingo and Midlands.

Mudenda said the commission will come up with a full mode of operation in consultation with key stakeholders from political parties and “the whole gamut of civil society, including churches and non-governmental organisations”.

ZHRC has its work cut out as it has come under criticism from various quarters for sitting idly by while human rights violations, especially by political parties, continue as elections draw closer.

Reg Austin, the former chairperson of ZHRC resigned from his post on December 16, 2012 claiming, among other things, that “the establishment of the ZHRC has been a tale of unreadiness, delay, lack of commitment and serious focus” on the part of government.

“The ZHRC Act effectively grants the executive (Chinamasa) a wide discretion, today and in future to silence the commission on the grounds that its investigation of a complaint may prejudice defence, external relations, internal security or economic interests of the state,” said Austin.

Brian Raftopolous, a senior research mentor at the University of Western Cape, said Zanu PF was “hindering the workings of ZHRC as well as the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (Jomic)”.

While expressing concern at Zimbabwe’s deteriorating political environment, Sadc executive secretary Tomaz Salomão recently lambasted the below-par performances of commissions established under the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by Zanu PF and the MDC formations in 2008.

“It is not so much an issue of impediments that have come their way, but rather more a question of attitude,” Salomão in reference commissions, which include the ZHCR, and Jomic. “They can do better and they know they can. We told them and I think they understand that they need to perform better.”

In the past month the country has witnessed an upsurge in political violence, crackdown on civil society organisations and the arrest of MDC party staffers, raising fears of imminent descent into the 2008- like bloodbath.

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