The UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Bishow Parajuli
Representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
Representatives of other UN Agencies here present,
Representatives of Other International Organisations,
Representatives of Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies,
Representatives of Civil Society Organisations,
Representatives of the Media (both Print and Electronic)
Distinguished Guests in your respective capacities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed a great honour for me to have been invited to witness and say a few words on this important occasion of the launch of the local languages version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which as we all know is one of the most important foundational international instruments for promoting respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms which are enshrined in various national constitutions, bills of rights and municipal laws.
In its preamble, the UDHR underlines the reaffirmation by the people of the United Nations in the Charter of their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women as well as their determination to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom. It is no wonder human rights have acquired the now trite definition of being universal indivisible and inalienable. One of the fundamental obligations we share is to bring the awareness of the generality of humankind to their entitlement to these rights and freedoms through various methods including teaching, education and information dispensation in languages which people understand and converse in. Today’s event therefore is an important landmark in the development of fundamental human rights awareness as henceforth, Ndebele and Shona speaking people in this country will be acquainted with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights couched in their mother tongue.
Our people will therefore now understand that the UDHR was adopted on 10 December 1948 after the horrific experiences of the Second World War (1939 – 1945) and that it is considered as the common standard of achievement of all peoples and all nations and by which the progress of nations shall be measured. They will equally understand that it is an important part of the International “Bill of Rights” that includes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Since it was crafted and adopted in 1948 the UDHR has guided the fashioning of many Constitutions and has influenced many municipal laws and court decisions in many countries and international organisations.
At home here in Zimbabwe the adoption of the new constitution in May 2013, marked a big stride in our affirmation of the spirit and purport of the UDHR. The new Constitution of Zimbabwe has a comprehensive Bill or Declaration of Rights under (Chapter 4) which domesticates almost all the provisions of the UDHR. Our Declaration of Rights embodies both civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights, the latter of which were silent in the former Constitution. In this regard, the Zimbabwe Constitution is a progressive document that sets the fundamental legal framework on which to build a proper and truly constitutional state. Today’s event is a clear expression and recognition of our people’s right to access to information provided at section 62 as well as their right to language and culture under section 63 of the Constitution. If information is relayed to people in a language which they do not understand, it is no better than the proverbial justice which when delayed is deemed denied.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission derives its competencies from the Zimbabwe Constitution and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Act as well as from various international instruments such as to cite but a few, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action in which the World Conference on Human Rights reaffirmed the important and constructive role played by national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights in particular in their advisory capacity to the competent authorities, their role in remedying human rights violations, in the dissemination of human rights information and in education in human rights. There is no better way of achieving this objective than by applying the language of the people and for the people.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, as you all know is a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) with a constitutional and legislative mandate to protect and promote human rights in the country. It is the duty of the ZHRC to ensure human rights concepts provided for in the Declaration of Rights and other human rights instruments that Zimbabwe is signatory to, including the UDHR are observed and implemented. The Zimbabwe Constitution has bestowed on the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission a broad mandate and challenging responsibilities.
The Commission is mandated to carry out the following functions in terms of section 243 of the Constitution;
- to promote awareness of and respect for human rights and freedoms at all levels of society;
- to promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights and freedoms;
- to monitor, assess and ensure observance of human rights and freedoms;
- to receive and consider complaints from the public and to take such action in regard to the complaints as it considers appropriate;
- to protect the public against abuse of power and maladministration by State and public institutions and by officers of those institutions;
- to investigate the conduct of any authority or person, where it is alleged that any of the rights in the Declaration of Rights has been violated by that authority or person;
- to secure appropriate redress, including recommending the prosecution of offenders, where human rights or freedoms have been violated;
- 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;
- to recommend to Parliament effective measures to promote human rights and freedoms;
- to conduct research into issues relating to human rights and freedoms and social justice and;
- to visit and inspect- prisons, places of detention, refugee camps and related facilities and places where mentally disordered or intellectually handicapped persons are detained; in order to ascertain the conditions under which persons are kept there.
Activities of the Commission:
In discharge of its mandate, the Commission has among many other activities so far carried out the following:
- It has since June 2014 established a Secretariat and has continued to carry out Capacity Building exercises through training workshops and study visits to related National Human Rights Institutions in the region and beyond. The Commission is currently developing its operational and working tools for dealing with complaints, monitoring prisons and other detention centres, Refugee camps, human rights education and awareness.
- The Commission also has a mandate on Complaints handling and resolution which entails receiving and initiating investigations into complaints of a human rights nature and those relating to mal-administration since it has inherited the functions of the now defunct Public Protector or Ombudsman. In order to do this effectively, the Commission is currently operating from two regional offices namely, the Harare one catering for the 5 Northern provinces and the Bulawayo one also catering for the 5 Southern provinces. Since commencing operations in about October 2014, the Commission has to date received 118 new complaints. Further the Commission is processing in excess of 500 complaints which it inherited from the defunct Public Protector Office.
- The Commission also has a responsibility on human rights awareness and education. In this connection the Commission is involved in creating human rights awareness to the public through outreach programs such as participating in radio talk shows to explain the fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in Chapter Four of the Constitution including the Commission’s mandate.
- The Commission also carries on its shoulders Human rights promotional activities. The Commission has assumed a lead role in promoting human rights through commemorations of key human rights days such as the December 10 International Human Rights Day, and also through production of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials such as pamphlets, brochures, leaflets and banners as well as press releases and radio programmes. It would be more beneficial if all these documents could be translated in the 16 recognised official languages of the country. In carrying out these activities the focus is to promote human rights and the visibility of the Commission as a one stop centre for handling human rights complaints and grievances relating to administrative justice.
- The Commission also monitors emergency human rights situations by visiting and inspecting different locations that would have been affected by the vagaries of weather to assess the human rights impact on those affected such as the Chingwizi and Tsholotsho flood victims. May I hasten to add that a report with specific recommendations on Chingwizi was published last year in October 2014 following its submission to Parliament. The same report has also been shared with responsible Government Ministries, departments and agencies.
- The Commission has the added mandate of inspecting Prisons and other detention centres with the view to recommending to the responsible authorities measures to make such places human rights friendly and more habitable.
- The Commission also participates in Charter based mechanisms known as the Human Rights Council mechanisms for protection and promotion of human rights such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The Commission has been a key player in the UPR review process by participating in stakeholder dialogue to develop a National Action Plan for implementing UN recommendations and also monitoring implementation of the same through independent reporting.
- The Commission is further involved in treaty based mechanisms such as participating in report writing to treaty bodies with reference to Government’s compliance with international human rights treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
- Lastly but not least, the Commission being answerable to Parliament is expected to submit an Annual or Periodic reports to Parliament highlighting its activities and any noteworthy human rights developments. So far the Commission has presented its first report covering the period 2010 – 2012 and will soon submit its second and third report to Parliament through the relevant Minister.
Ladies and Gentlemen, while the mandate and functions of the Commission are far and wide, the resources at its disposal are very limited. As such, the Commission has to work in collaboration and cooperation with other institutions and organizations including the UN agencies by tapping into their knowledge and expertise. As such, the Commission applauds and congratulates the United Nations Information Centre for producing these local versions of the UDHR. These Ndebele and Shona translated UDHR versions will go a long way in advancing the work of the Commission by ensuring Information Education and Communication (IEC) materials on human rights are available in local languages which are more easily understood by communities. It should be noted however, that besides guaranteeing the right to language and culture, and therefore the right for every person to use the language of their choice (Section 63), the Constitution of Zimbabwe recognizes 16 languages as official languages, namely Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa (Section 6). The Commission therefore implores UNIC to translate further the UDHR into the other official languages recognized in the Constitution of Zimbabwe as aforementioned for purposes of inclusivity.
In conclusion ladies and gentlemen, I wish to thank and applaud the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) for a job well done and to assure you on behalf of the Commission that these vital documents will be utilised in advancing the work of the Commission and other human rights defenders engaged in promoting and protecting human rights in this country.
Finally, I wish you a successful launch of the Shona and Ndebele versions of the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights as the foundation of all human rights instruments.
I thank you.