What is the ZHRC and what does it do?
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission is the National Human Rights Institution for Zimbabwe that was initially created by section 100R of the former Constitution and is now established by Chapter 12 of the Constitution as one of the Independent Commissions supporting democracy in Zimbabwe. Its purpose is to promote, protect and enforce human rights and fundamental or basic freedoms provided for in the Constitution of Zimbabwe (in particular, in Chapter 4 known as the Declaration of Rights) and various international agreements on human rights which Zimbabwe has signed and ratified. It also protects people from abuse of power and maladministration by State institutions and State officials. In this regard, the Commission has taken over the work of the Public Protector’s Office (previously known as the Ombudsman’s Office) which was abolished in 2013 with the adoption of the current Constitution. Section 243 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Act outline the functions of the ZHRC.
What are the powers of the ZHRC? Is the Commission a toothless bull dog?
The ZHRC receives complaints from the public on a) human rights violations and b) maladministration and takes appropriate redress action.
The Commission can summon any person, official or authority to appear before it. Such individuals or authorities can be;
- Asked to produce any document or record that is needed as part of the Commission’s investigations.
- Asked questions that will assist in investigating human rights complaints or omissions and;
- Required to disclose any information that is relevant to the Commission’s investigations.
The Commission also has the power to direct the Commissioner-General of Police to investigate suspected cases of criminal violations of human rights or freedoms and to report to the Commission on any such investigations.
Is the ZHRC an independent institution and how independent is it?
Yes, the ZHRC is an independent institution.
There are legal guarantees that safeguard the independence of all Independent Commissions. Section 235(1) states that;
The Independent Commissions-
- are independent and are not subject to the direction or control of anyone;
- must act in accordance with the Constitution; and
- must exercise their function without fear, favour or prejudice; although they are accountable to Parliament for the efficient performance of their functions.
Section 235 (2) of the same Constitution states that;
The State and all institutions and agencies of Government……….. must protect their independence, impartiality, integrity and effectiveness.
These provisions safeguard the Commission from receiving instructions from any person, agency or authority.
Further, section 235 (3) states;
No person may interfere with the functioning of the Independent Commissions.
In this regard, practically, the Commission carries out its work independently.
Section 236 of the Constitution requires members of Independent Commissions to be apolitical, that is, in the exercise of their functions, members of the ZHRC should not act in a partisan manner.
Section 237 of the Constitution (as read with sections 242(1) and 187) provides for a transparent process of appointment and removal from office of Commissioners that ensures that they are not beholden to any partisan authority.
To ensure financial independence the Commission obtained vote status in January 2016 which means it now has its separate budget from that of the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs which it administers itself.
Is the ZHRC an NGO?
No, the ZHRC is not a non-governmental organization (NGO) but a State created institution. It is also not a government department or agency.
As already explained, (refer to question 1) the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission is the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) for Zimbabwe created under Section 232 (as read with section 242) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Act 2013 in Chapter 12. The operational framework of the ZHRC is provided for in the Zimbabwe Human Rights Act (Chap 10:30). The other four Independent Commissions also provided for in Chapter 12 of the Constitution, are Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Zimbabwe Gender Commission, Zimbabwe Media Commission and National Peace and Reconciliation Commission.
Where does the Commission get its funding?
National Human Rights Institutions such as the ZHRC, the world over, being state – created institutions get funding from the government and as such, the Commission receives an allocation from the national budget. Also, development partners including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), European Union, the Danish and Norwegian Foreign Offices (through the Danish Institute of Human Rights (DIHR)) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) have extended funding to the Commission.
What selection criteria does the Commission use when taking up cases for investigation? For what grievances can I approach the ZHRC?
The Commission receives complaints of a) human rights violations b) abuse of power and maladministration by State Institutions and State Officials in fulfilment of its Public Protector (or Ombudsman) mandate. So any cases categorized as such, can be handled by the Commission. A human rights violation is a breach or infringement of any right provided for in the Constitution or any international treaty or agreement on human rights which Zimbabwe has signed or ratified.
However, according to the ZHRC Act, there are certain cases that the Commission cannot handle. These include violations that occurred before 13 February 2009, violations which occurred later than three years from date of lodging of complaint (if they are civil matters, because they would have prescribed); matters that are currently pending before any court of law, matters covered by the prerogative of mercy (the Presidential pardon), and actions or omissions complained of which involve relations or dealings between the Government of Zimbabwe and any other foreign Government unless there is a suspected violation of human rights by a citizen or resident of Zimbabwe. All such cases can therefore not be addressed by the ZHRC.
Has the ZHRC recommended any cases for investigation by the Police and or Prosecution by relevant authorities since its inception?
In terms of Section 243 (1) (f) and (h) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Commission is mandated to investigate the conduct of any authority or person if there are allegations of violation of human rights by that authority and to direct the Commissioner – General of Police to investigate cases of suspected criminal violations of human rights or freedoms and to report to the Commission on the results of any such investigation. Yes, indeed the Commission after making investigations has recommended cases for further investigation or prosecution by relevant authorities. Examples are an abduction case from Chiredzi, Epworth and Budiriro Police Brutality cases, Burombo and Vulindlela Hostels Police Brutality cases of 2016 as well as Hurungwe West By- Election pre-election violence case of 2015.
Does the ZHRC go with me to court?
No, the ZHRC does not act as legal counsel or legal practitioner for complainants. It does not provide legal representation services since it has an independent oversight role over human rights and maladministration matters. Complainants requiring legal representation services for personal matters are referred to the Government’s Legal Aid Directorate and Civil Society Organizations which offer such services.
What happens after the Commission makes recommendations on cases received?
- The Commission provides feedback to the complainants e.g. advising them to seek redress in a court of law, or gives the recommendations to the appropriate authority for implementation and follows up on implementation.
- In cases of failure to comply with the Commission’s recommendations by any official or authority, the Commission may produce a special report on the issue and submit it to the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs for the case to be presented to the President and/or to Parliament for speedy resolution.
- In some cases the Commission can take the violation to a court of law that can hear the matter. This can be done on its own or on behalf of the complainant.
Is the ZHRC in all provinces of Zimbabwe?
The Commission is not yet decentralized. The Commission’s main office is in Harare and it has a sub office in Bulawayo. The following are the contact details for the Offices:
Northern Region Office and Head Office
144 Samora Machel Avenue East (between 5th and 6th Street), Harare
Tel: +263 4 2934102/3 or 251077/079/085 or 705268/426 or 703596/616 or 701811
Southern Region Office
49 J.M Nkomo (between 3rd and 4th Avenue) Bulawayo
Tel: +263 9 64170-73