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(Jul 20, 2012) On July 12, 2012, the 214-member Zimbabwe House of Assembly adopted the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill, 2011, aimed at putting into operation the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC). The Commission had been established in 2009 following a constitutional amendment. (Rights Bill Passed, THE HERALD (July 13, 2012); Constitution of Zimbabwe (as amended through Feb. 13, 2009), § 100R, KUBATANA.NET.) The legislation is now headed to the floor of the 99-member upper chamber of the country's parliament, the Senate; if the document is approved in its current form, it will be sent to the President for his assent. (Rights Bill Passed, supra; Constitution of Zimbabwe, § 51.)

Controversial Provision

One provision that seeks to greatly restrict the ZHRC's jurisdiction has come to define the proposed legislation. It limits the ZHRC's authority to investigate possible human rights abuses to complaints of violations that occurred after February 13, 2009, a time pegged to the implementation date of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) – a power sharing/peace agreement among the three top political parties of Zimbabwe. The Agreement was concluded following the post-2008 election violence. (Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill, H.B. 2, 2011 (June 10, 2011), § 9, KUBATANA.NET; Martha Mutisi, Beyond the Signature: Appraisal of the Zimbabwe Global Political Agreement (GPA) and Implications for Intervention, POLICY & PRACTICE BRIEF (Mar. 2011).)

While the provision excludes from any legal scrutiny the alleged human rights violations that were perpetrated during the 2008 post-election violence, among other incidents, this was not a sticking point in the House of Assembly consideration of the legislation. Nevertheless, some law makers did complain about the legislation's omission of any reference to the violence. (Tony Reeler, Subliminal Terror? Human Rights Violations and Torture in Zimbabwe During 2008 (last visited July 18, 2012); Tichaona Sibanda, Heated Debate as Rights Commission Bill Is Tabled in Parliament, SW RADIO AFRICA (July 11, 2012).)

However, these complaints were rebuffed by the Justice and Legal Affairs Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, a prominent member of ZANU-PF, President Robert Mugabe's party, who insisted that the rule of law requires that no law be applied retroactively. (Rights Bill Passed, supra; Patrick Chinamasa, AFRICA CONFIDENTIAL (last visited July 18, 2012).) In addition, he noted that the language had already been agreed upon among the GPA negotiators, representatives of ZANU-PF, and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) groups. (Bill Watch 31/2012 of 11th July, THE ZIMBABWEAN (July 12, 2012).)

The MDC negotiators reportedly decided to overlook the restriction because their insistence would have proved unacceptable to ZANU-PF and would have made it virtually impossible to progress the legislation. (Sibanda, supra.) They thought it better to have the ZHRC fully operational before the next elections, even if with restricted powers. (Id.) The official position of the MDC is that atrocities committed prior to 2009 will be dealt with separately. In a press statement, the MDC challenged the general complaint leveled against it that it had ignored atrocities committed before 2009. (Press Release, MDC, Human Rights Commission to Protect Zimbabweans (July 17, 2012).) MDC national spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora noted that human rights abuses perpetrated going back to the 1980s will be addressed by the Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission. (Id.) However, this is unlikely while the ZANU-PF remains in power, according to the co-Minister of National Healing, Moses Mzila Ndlovu. (Sibanda, supra.)

Reactions

Reaction to the limits imposed on the jurisdiction of the ZHRC has been mixed. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, a local rights group, among others, was highly critical of the process that led to the incorporation of the provision in the proposed legislation. In particular it criticized the fact that duly elected representatives of the public were denied a say on the matter. The Association stated:

    [w]hat worries more is an element that just six people (negotiators) can be said to have reached a quorum more powerful than the rest of the parliamentarians for the two hundred and ten constituencies they represent. (Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, Human Rights Violations Preceding 2009 Can't Be Ignored (last visited July 18, 2012).)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was more forgiving. She did not have any objection to the limits imposed on the jurisdiction of the ZHRC, as long as Zimbabwe puts in place other mechanisms to address violations that occurred prior to 2009. (Impunity Should Not Be Condoned, ZIMBABWE INDEPENDENT (July 13, 2012).)

Author: Hanibal Goitom More by this author
Topic: Human rights More on this topic
Jurisdiction: Zimbabwe More about this jurisdiction

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Last updated: 07/20/2012