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Chairperson for Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, Comm: Elasto H. Mugwadi, and other ZHRC Commissioners.

Minister of State for Provincial Affairs; Harare Metropolitan Province, Honourable M.R. Chikukwa;

His Worship, the Mayor of Chitungwiza

Honourable Ministers here present

Honourable Members of Parliament here present

Honourable Judges and other Members of the Judiciary

Other Commissioners

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Deputy Ministers here present

Permanent Secretaries

Vice Chancellors of Universities

Development and Donor Partners

President of the Chief’s Council and Traditional Chiefs

Directors and Officers of Government Line Ministries

Directors and Members of Civil Society Organisations and Faith Based Organisations here present

Directors and staff from the Private Sector

Secretariat of the ZHRC and other Commissions here present,

Ward Councillors

Members of the Media fraternity

Artistic Groups here present

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honour on behalf of the Government of Zimbabwe and on my personal behalf to address you on this very important day on the International Human Rights Calendar, as we commemorate International Human Rights Day for the year 2015. This year’s theme is “Our rights. Our freedoms. Always”. The formal inception of Human Rights Day dates back to 1950, after the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution inviting all States and interested Organizations to adopt 10 December of each year as Human Rights Daygiving honor to the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).[1]

The UDHR was the first human rights instrument to express the universal statement that all human beings have inherent rights that are inalienable and has, in the words of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “set the direction for all subsequent work in the field of human rights and has provided the basic philosophy for many legally binding international instruments designed to protect the rights and freedoms which it proclaims’’[2].

I am glad to say through the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), our national commemorations of the International Human Rights Day on a year by year basis are getting bigger and bigger. The ZHRC is one of our Constitutional Independent Commissions Supporting Democracy and has a particular mandate to promote, protect and enforce human rights. As Government we are pleased that the ZHRC has managed to partner with various Government ministries and departments as well as Civic Society Organizations, development partners and other stakeholders in the human rights field to host these commemorations. These partnerships and linkages help us to build a better Zimbabwe and a society which is conscious and respectful of human rights and freedoms.

As the government we have made significant progress to ensure that Zimbabweans enjoy their human rights and freedoms. It is important to note that the government of Zimbabwe has managed to operationalize the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to be the human rights watchdog and advisor to government on all issues relating to human rights in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe joins the international community to celebrate International Human Rights almost three years after adopting a constitution with a broadened Bill of Rights (Declaration of Rights), which is Chapter 4 of the Constitution.

I take note that the year 2015 coincides with the 50th Anniversary of two Human Rights Covenants, namely, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Accordingly, Zimbabwe joins the global community this year, in launching a one-year celebration of the 50th anniversary of these two Covenants which runs for a year until International Human Rights Day on 10th December 2016.  Zimbabwe long accepted its international obligation to respect, protect and fulfill economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights by acceding without reservations to the ICCPR and the ICESCR on May 13, 1991. These key covenants together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights constitute the International Bill of Rights.

The ICCPR obligates countries that have ratified the treaty to protect and preserve basic human rights, such as: the right to life and human dignity; equality before the law; freedom of speech, assembly, and association; religious freedom and privacy; freedom from torture, ill-treatment, and arbitrary detention; gender equality; the right to a fair trial, and minority rights. The Covenant compels governments to take administrative, judicial, and legislative measures in order to protect the rights enshrined in the treaty and to provide an effective remedy[3]. Let me point out that fulfilment of the rights in the ICCPR by the government of Zimbabwe dates back to the 1980s when civil and political rights were incorporated into the Lancaster House Constitution in Chapter 3 which set out the Bill of Rights.[4]  Since acceding to the two covenants in 1991, Zimbabwe continues to accede and ratify numerous other human rights instruments within the auspices of the United Nations, The African Union {formerly the Organization of African Unity (OAU)} and the {Southern Africa Development Community (SADC)}. Most recently the Government identified and ratified the following:

  • UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children;
  • Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict); and the
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocols

May I assure you that the government will expedite the ratification of all other outstanding treaties and domesticate them. The government is alive to the submissions on the ratification of the Convention Against Torture (CAT). However, it should not be forgotten that the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides for an absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The effect of this, inter alia, is the removal of corporal punishment as a sentence or punishment. The government also continues to receive submissions on the complete abolition of the death penalty. My strong views against the death penalty are now a matter of public knowledge, and I am glad to note that this year, Zimbabwe marked a decade without execution of prisoners on death row, which is a milestone towards protection of the right to life moving towards eventual abolition of the death penalty in the Zimbabwean statutes.

Zimbabwe has fully subscribed to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which is a unique process that involves a periodic peer review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. In February 2011, the Government of Zimbabwe launched a consultative process on the Universal Periodic Review involving stakeholders that facilitated the drafting of the national report, which was considered by the Working Group of the Human Rights Council on the Universal Periodic Review in October of the same year. This was followed by the adoption of the report by the Human Rights Council in March 2012. Out of 177 recommendations on various human rights issues that were made for its consideration, Zimbabwe accepted 130.

Since the adoption of the National Plan of Action by stakeholders, Government has made considerable strides towards the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review recommendations. Major milestones include the holding of the referendum to adopt the new Constitution and the enactment of that Constitution, the successful holding of harmonised elections in June 2013 and a national process that is currently underway to align the country’s laws with the provisions of the new Constitution. The new Constitution carries a comprehensive Declaration of Rights which largely domesticates the regional and international human rights treaties to which Zimbabwe is a party. Further domestication will be undertaken through the alignment of the country’s laws with the Constitution. The government has so far introduced the General Laws Amendment Bill which seeks to align a number of laws with the constitution.

I take note that in terms of civil and political rights, the focus for the commemorations this year is on freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech, and freedom of worship. Our people – driven constitution guarantees many civil liberties, among them the right to personal security (Section 52), freedom of thought, opinion, religion or belief {Section 60 (1a)}, freedom of expression and freedom of the media (Section 61) as well as access to information (Section 62) under the Declaration of Rights. Reforms are underway in the media sector, with the findings and recommendations of the Independent Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI) informing the legislative process[5]. Also of note is the review of the Public Order and Security Act with a view of aligning it with the Constitution and human rights standards which is underway.

The new Constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary and provides for principles guiding the judiciary since enforcement of the rule of law is a key tenet of human rights. The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) now has an independent fund and runs its own budget and the new Constitution has introduced more transparency in the appointment process to the judiciary. Government has also decentralized the Legal Aid Directorate (LAD) and has opened new offices in 3 provinces in an endeavor to assist indigent individuals, to access legal services.  New courts have also been established in other centres in order to bring the courts closer to the people.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) spells out in more detail the economic, social and cultural rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and is binding on those countries that have ratified it. Again the Constitution of Zimbabwe domesticates most of the provisions of the ICESCR since it guarantees, for example, labour rights, the right to health, to education, to social security, to food and clean water to mention a few.  Apart from the Constitution, Zimbabwe has good legislative provisions for implementing economic, social and cultural rights such as, the Labour Act [Chapter 28:01] which was recently reviewed, the Health Service Act [Chapter 15:16] and the Education Act [Chapter 25:04].

As we are all aware, Zimbabwe has made enduring strides in fulfilling the right to education with a high literacy rate of 92%. For three (3) consecutive years, Zimbabwe was ranked as having the highest literacy rate in Africa and the only country at some point to have a rating of over 90%[6]. The right to education includes a basic State-funded education which ensures that learners from disadvantaged backgrounds are catered for through the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM). The right to health provided for in the Constitution includes the right of every person living with a chronic illness to have access to basic healthcare services for the illness and the requirement that no person may be refused emergency medical treatment in any health-care institution [Section 76]. Priority is therefore being placed on revitalising the health care delivery system to ensure an effective and efficient referral system and emergency services. Most primary care facilities are functional as they continue to benefit from both Government and donor resources.

The focus for this year’s commemorations in terms of socio economic rights is on freedom from want. In this regard, it is an obligation on government to ensure enabling conditions that allow citizens to provide for themselves to prevent situations of dire poverty. However, the Government of Zimbabwe continues to  face resource constraints, skills flight, inadequate infrastructure, persistent droughts and a host of other challenges that have  hampered our efforts to fully implement some of the recommendations from the  peer review process[7]. The economic blue-print, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZIMASSET) was adopted in order to revive the economy, focusing on food security and nutrition, social services and poverty eradication, infrastructure and utilities, and value addition and beneficiation. One of the key objectives of ZIMASSET is that the country must be able to get more benefit from its natural resources, which in turn should contribute to socio-economic development and poverty alleviation. Various policies on agriculture, indigenization and economic empowerment have been adopted to fulfil the rights enshrined in the Covenant.

The capacity of infrastructure has not been expanded to cater for the increased population particularly in urban areas resulting in current challenges being experienced in the delivery of services such as provision of adequate water and sanitation. In this regard, government continues to monitor local government structures to enforce good governance practices, weed out corruption and streamline budgets to prioritize service delivery.

It is also important to note that the ICESCR prohibits all forms of discrimination in the enjoyment of these rights, including on the basis of sex, and requires that countries ensure the equal rights of women and men[8]. The Constitution of Zimbabwe absolutely prohibits discrimination against women and provides for the establishment of a Gender Commission which is already being operationalized. The Constitution also provides for the rights of other specific groups besides women and girls, namely People with Disabilities and the Older Persons, Children and Veterans of the Liberation Struggle. I am glad to see that these groups are visibly represented at these commemorations, showing that they are taking a more active role in the promotion of their rights.

As we celebrate our common values for human dignity, let us also remember that International Human Rights Day celebrations are being held soon after equally significant commemorations like the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, World Aids Day and the International Day for People with Disabilities. The Government places great importance on each of these significant dates and indeed on their perpetual daily significance as they also focus on specific rights of people as set out in the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

Let me conclude by once more applauding and congratulating the ZHRC  and partners for  collaborating to host this event  and  bringing together state and non-state actors represented here for the sole purpose of promoting and protecting human rights. Such collective efforts can only make our society better and foster a culture of respect for human rights as enshrined in our Constitution, in the UDHR, the two covenants and other human rights instruments. Ultimately, it is everyone’s responsibility to promote human rights and respect human rights values of fairness, justice, equality, non – discrimination, respect for life, human dignity, tolerance, non – violence and respect for diversity as to ultimately foster a universal culture of human rights.

I Thank You


[1] United Nations Human Rights Day  http://www.un.org/en/events/humanrightsday

[2] Human Rights Day at the Law Library http://blogs.loc.gov/law/2010/12/human-rights-day-at-the-law-library/

[3] FAQ: THE COVENANT ON CIVIL & POLITICAL RIGHTS (ICCPR) https://www.aclu.org/faq-covenant-civil-political-rights-iccpr

[4] Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 19) Act, 2008, Chapter 3 Declaration of Rights

[5] Mid-Term progress report on the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review recommendations accepted by Zimbabwe in March 2012, submitted by the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe June, Page 19

[6] According to the African Economist Magazine, 2013

[7] Mid-Term progress report on the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review recommendations accepted by Zimbabwe in March 2012, submitted by the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe June, Page 1.

[8] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Covenant_on_Economic,_Social_and_Cultural_Rights

Key Note Address by the Guest Of Honour; Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe also Responsible for Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Honourable Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, at the International Human Rights Day Commemorations at the Chitungwiza Aquatic Complex, Chitungwiza on the 17th of December 2015