HUMAN rights organisations have reacted with cynicism to government’s pledge to embark on far-reaching rights reforms, saying the authorities lack the political will to tackle serious violations.
BY WONGAI ZHANGAZHA
Under pressure from the international community for the rising incidence of human rights violations, Zimbabwe on Wednesday committed to establish an independent commission to investigate rights abuses on civilians by the security sector.
The country’s checkered human rights record came under the spotlight during an ongoing United Nations meeting on fundamental rights, where Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who also doubles as Justice minister, has taken a team of officials to Geneva, Switzerland, to apprise and defend the country’s commitment to upholding human rights and the rule of law. Germany and Norway have raised the red flag over Zimbabwe’s growing human rights abuses, often at the hands of security sector personnel.
“Government is in the process of crafting a law that will provide an independent complaint mechanism against members of the security forces in terms of the constitution. The Act will provide an effective and independent mechanism for receiving complaints from members of the public, the investigation and provision for remedies for any harm caused by members of the security forces,” Mnangagwa said during the Universal Periodic Review meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
However, human rights organisations immediately responded to his remarks, saying cases of torture, harassment, intimidation and denial of medical attention have been surging in recent months as several social movements took to the streets challenging government over the worsening economic situation.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said Zimbabwe has adequate laws to address criminal abuses by any citizen, including security forces, hence the problem was not the absence of legislation to prosecute errant members of the security forces.
“We have independent commissions that support democracy like the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to handle such cases, but this government allows impunity by security forces and vigilante groups associated with Zanu PF as long as they serve a political interest. The problem, therefore, is not lack of laws, but lawlessness supported by this government,” Ruhanya said.
“The government should make sure that it is a government of laws and support entrenched rule of law in the country, something that this government has patently refused to do. Even if that independent complaints mechanism is established, just like Zacc (Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission) and other many useless commissions, due to the celebration of impunity by the government, it won’t work.
“The problem is, therefore, not lack of laws, but lack of political accountability and contempt of the rule of law. His presentation is just a ritual to avoid censure by the Human Rights Council, but as we go for elections, cases of human rights violations will be rampant as has become the tradition of the security forces,” Ruhanya added.
Political commentator Stanley Tinarwo said it was highly unlikely that government would walk the talk on reforms it committed to implement.
“The proof to that will be in the pudding. While he (Mnangagwa) can say it at a UN platform, he may not be able to implement it at home. This is because the military political complex that rules Zimbabwe is more sophisticated than he is presenting. And he is also a part of it,” he said.