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Director of the Occasion Mr Okay Machisa

The Chairperson of the Africa Democracy Forum – Mrs Hannah Foster

The Honourable Speaker of Parliament – Advocate Jacob Francis Mudenda

Distinguished delegates of the Africa Democracy Forum from across Africa

Ladies and gentlemen

All protocol observed

I bring you salutations from the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), the country’s National Human Rights Institution whose mandate is to protect, promote and enforce human rights including administering Administrative Justice. I also wish to take this opportunity to thank our partners the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association and the Africa Democracy Forum for organising this event whose topic discussions include human rights. We are all aware that the preservation of and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms continues to be the greatest topical issue of our time globally and especially in Africa.

The invitation to me however, requested that I discuss specifically human rights in Zimbabwe. This is a broad subject that may not be exhausted in the time slot of ten minutes and therefore I will attempt to give just an overview of how we perceive the current human rights terrain in the country to be.

Human rights are said to be those entitlements guaranteed to everybody by virtue of being human. They are inherent and therefore not granted by anybody or by any institution. However, for purposes of justiciability and enforcement, these normative values are always enshrined in various international and national legal instruments.

In Zimbabwe the legal and policy framework provides for a broad spectrum of fundamental rights and freedoms that reflect the civil, political, socio-economic, and cultural, developmental and environmental rights.

The Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe in its Preamble reaffirms the need to entrench democracy, good, transparent and accountable governance and the rule of law. It further reaffirms the country’s commitment to upholding and defending fundamental rights and freedoms among other commitments.

The same Constitution under Chapter 1 lists the founding values and principles of the nation as being:

  1.  Supremacy of the Constitution;
  2. The rule of law;
  3. Fundamental human rights and freedoms;
  4. The nation’s diverse cultural, religious and traditional values;
  5. Recognition of the inherent dignity and worth of each human being;
  6. Recognition of equality of all human beings;
  7. Gender  equality;
  8. Good governance; and
  9. Recognition of and respect for the liberation struggle which ushered in political independence and self-determination.

The Declaration of Rights which is provided for under Chapter 4 of the Constitution encompasses a broad set of fundamental human rights and freedoms ranging from civil, political, socio-economic, cultural, environmental rights etc.

The Constitution also sets up institutions to support, promote and enforce the aforesaid fundamental human rights and freedoms. These include the various law enforcement agencies, courts of law and Independent Commissions that include the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission established under Chapter 12.

Zimbabwe is signatory to many International human rights instruments and does actively participate in the UN Charter based mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) under the Human Rights Council.

Whilst the legal and policy environment provides for human rights in Zimbabwe, the task of enforcing and ensuring satisfactory enjoyment of these rights, remains a huge challenge on our part as a National Human Rights Institution. We are still to operationalise the different Constitutional provisions that address most fundamental rights and freedoms so that our people can get to know them, demand them, defend and enforce them. We have however, set up 8 Thematic Working Groups which I have confidence will facilitate the realisation of this aspect as a process of effective implementation of our Constitutional mandate. We are also currently carrying out awareness campaigns through Road Shows which are being supported by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights.

Our Constitution as you are all aware of is a recent document, having come into force in May 2013. The need therefore to align existing legislation and developing new legislation consistent with the Constitution is a huge task for the government as this has no short circuits and is therefore a human rights challenge on its own. The courts have also pronounced themselves on certain pieces of legislation that have negative implications on the realisation and enjoyment of human rights that need overhauling. Some of the statutes requiring urgent alignment to ensure enjoyment of rights and fundamental freedoms include the Children’s Act in as far as its provisions have to take into account those in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC); the Marriages Act in relation to the majority marital age of 18; the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act on the Right to Life. Although there has been a moratorium in execution of death sentences, the last having been carried out on 22 July 2005, I believe the recent amendment to this Act is intended to reactivate the death penalty through executions – but I also understand there are no takers for the hang-man’s job. We hope this is going to prevail until the death penalty is pronounced effectively abolished.

In terms of the report of the Baseline Survey commissioned by the ZHRC in 2013-2014, the majority of our population needs to be educated on their fundamental rights and freedoms. Infact, the Survey revealed that a big percentage of our population hardly knew about their rights across the board. Therefore, awareness of such rights and fundamental freedoms is very critical if we are to fully enjoy such rights as a country.

Unconditional respect for human rights and the rule of law by state agents and non-state agents alike is critical in ensuring that citizens enjoy human rights as stipulated in the Constitution. There have been some incidences or allegations linking state and non-state actors to perpetration of human rights violations and abuses. As an example, in 2012 and 2015 respectively, two human rights defenders, namely, Paul Chizuze and Itai Dzamara were mysteriously disappeared. They have since then been missing and appeals for their safe return continue unabated but without tangible results.

The realisation and enjoyment of socio-economic rights in Zimbabwe remains a big challenge with a poor functioning economy, with unemployment at very high levels, and serious food insecurity due to the effects of El-nino weather induced patterns. The right to adequate, safe, clean potable water remains a serious challenge in many parts of Zimbabwe. Our Survey revealed that most local authorities had lost capacity to sustain services upholding the rights of residents to safe and potable water and clean environment free of pollutants and disease harbouring elements.

As a consequence of the deficiencies in maintaining Environmental Rights, people have had serious knock-on effects on their health as a result of, for example, mining activities of the extractive sector. Most areas in Zimbabwe where mining has been taking place have left more harm than good to the livelihood of people living in the neighbourhood. In areas such as Chiadzwa, Shurugwi and parts of Mazowe Valley to name but a few, people have lost their animals to unreclaimed mining pits. They have in some cases developed strange illnesses as a result of pollution by the activities of mining companies that also include destruction of the physical environment.

The effect of high unemployment being experienced in the country has been the disintegration of households with bread winners trekking to the diaspora in search of better fortunes and livelihoods; the increase in the heinous crime of illegal human trafficking for purposes of cheap labour and sex slavery such as in the deplorable case of the Zimbabwean women who were recently lured to Kuwait and other unidentified destinations are human rights violations of the highest order.

Ladies and gentlemen, the human rights terrain in Zimbabwe calls for joint efforts by both the Government and citizens working together to address these challenges. While positive strides have been made in ensuring that such rights and fundamental freedoms are so entrenched in our Constitution, there is need to ensure practical realisation of all rights since human rights are indivisible and interrelated. The Constitution obliges the State and every person including juristic persons and every institution and agency of the government at every level to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights and freedoms set in the Declaration of Rights. Let these be my parting words.

I thank you.

Address by the Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to Delegates of the Africa Democracy Forum General Assembly on 4th May 2016 at Theatre in the Park, Harare Gardens on the theme “Participate Democracy 2016”