VICE-PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s announcement at the Universal Periodic Review meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland this week, that government plans to introduce an independent complaints commission to investigate rights abuses on civilians by the security sector has once again shown government’s penchant of putting lipstick on a bullfrog.
Editor’s Memo,Faith Zaba
“Government’s position is that no one is above the law. Whenever a report is made investigations are carried out and no one is spared from prosecution including members of the security forces,” Mnangagwa said in response to concerns raised by Germany and Norway at the meeting.
“Further 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.”
Given the government’s appalling record of tackling cases of human rights abuses, it is not surprising that Mnangagwa’s remarks have been met with widespread derision and cynicism.
The setting up of the complaints mechanism is useless if there is no political will by President Robert Mugabe’s government as shown by the toothless independent commissions such as the Anti-Corruption and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commissions. Efforts by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) to point out partisan distribution of food have been met with scorn from government.
ZHRC chairperson Elasto Mugwadi recently revealed that Zanu PF members were denying those in opposition parties food aid.
He said this was exposed by investigations they had carried out in Bikita East, Buhera North, Mazowe Central and Muzarabani North and South as well as Zvimba South.
Instead of dealing with the issue, Mugabe, in response, could not have been more scathing to a commission he swore into office.
“And the information which some stupid people and stupid spokesman of, is it human rights (Commission) that comes out to say grain is distributed along party lines is completely false, absolutely false! If grain is going to party people and only to them, how are the others surviving there? They just want to make headlines internationally and they are not ashamed of the lies,” Mugabe fumed while addressing a Zanu-PF Central Committee in Harare in September.
“Is it because of the little money they are given, Shame! I am sure we all must salute ourselves on the work we are doing in this disregard.”
If Mugabe can brush off findings of a human rights commission, can we really expect him not to treat the complaints against the security sector that has ensured his tenacious hold on power by fair means or foul with the same contempt? We think not. Just last month, ZHRC in another report ordered the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to investigate the abduction of a Chiredzi man Kariborn Nyemba, by senior officers of the army and police.
The two officers, Captain Edmore Gono and Inspector Henry Dhowa, abducted Nyemba in May last year for his perceived links to fired former vice-president Joice Mujuru and even took him to State House, where the director of State Residences, Innocent Tizora, ordered his immediate release. But the two instead kept Nyemba in a guarded small room at Gono’s house where they tortured him for three days. A report was made to the ZHRC, which investigated and made recommendations for the police and army to investigate but no action has been taken since.
In September, gut-wrenching pictures of women with severely lacerated backsides were splashed in our sister paper NewsDay. The women were allegedly whipped with rubber truncheons by the police support unit. There have been other horrific details of protestors being tortured by the police in the last few months.
Perpetrators of violence from the military and central intelligence, who were fingered in politically motivated violence in the elections since 2000, roam the streets. Zimbabwe has adequate laws to address criminal abuses of people’s rights by any citizen, including security forces.
Impunity is not because of lack of legislation but government’s lack of political will to act. Without political will, the complaints mechanism, in whichever format, will be like other independent commissions — a monumental waste of taxpayers’ money.