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Honourable Deputy Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Cde Supa Mandiwanzira
Deputy Chairperson of the ZHRC, Dr Sithole and fellow Commissioners.
Media Commissioner, Cde Chris Mhike
UNDP representatives here present
Representatives from the Media (both print and electronic)
Distinguished guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introductory Remarks 
Allow me on behalf of the ZHRC and on my personal behalf to welcome our most distinguished guest of honour, the Hon. Deputy Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services to this very important ZHRC Dialogue Workshop with the Media.
We are all aware that the ZHRC is one of the Chapter 12 Independent Commissions Supporting Democracy established in terms of Section 232 of the people driven Constitution Amendment No 20 of 2013. Section 233 thereof outlines the general objectives of Independent Commissions as being:

  • To support and entrench human rights and democracy
  • To promote the sovereignty and interests of the people
  • To promote Constitutionalism
  • To promote transparency and accountability in public institutions
  • To secure the observance of democratic values and principles by the State and all institutions and agencies of government and government controlled entities, and
  • To ensure that injustices are remedied.

Functions of the Commission
Over and above the aforementioned objectives, the ZHRC has its peculiar individual functions or mandate conferred in terms of Section 243 of the Constitution and these include the following:

  • 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 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, and to make recommendations regarding those conditions to the Minister responsible for administering the law relating to those places.

Commission Thematic Working Groups
In order to diligently and effectively execute all the aforesaid responsibilities, the Commission has set up Human Rights Thematic Working Groups in accordance with the requirements of the law, and these include the following:-

  • Civil and Political rights;
  • Economic-Social and Cultural rights;
  • International Agreements and Treaties;
  • Environmental Rights;
  • Gender Equality  and Women’s Rights
  • Special Interest Groups (Youth, People with Disabilities and the Elderly)
  • Capacity building
  • Children’s rights

Each of these working groups chaired by a Commissioner, shall incorporate other members from relevant institutions such as civil society, the public and private sectors.

Other Administrative Departments
The other administrative departments under the Secretariat headed by the Executive Secretary and her Deputies include the following:

  •  Complaints and Investigations
  • Education, Research and Training
  • Administrative Justice
  • Inspections and Monitoring
  • Finance and Administration

 Powers of the Commission
The Commission discharges its mandate in terms of the following powers bestowed on it by the Constitution and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Act [Chapter 10:30].

  • to issue summons to any authority or person or public official to appear before the Commission and to produce any document or record relevant to any investigation by the Commission;
  • to put any question to any authority or person or public official which the Commission considers will assist its investigation of the complaint in question;
  • to require any person to disclose any information which the Commission considers relevant to its investigation;
  • 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 investigations

Limitations of the Commission
The powers of the Commission are not absolute as the law prohibits the Commission from handling the following matters:

The Commission shall not investigate a complaint –

  • Unless the complaint is made within three years from the date on which the action or omission occurred:

Provided that such investigation shall not relate to an action or omission that occurred earlier than 13th February 2009

  • Where the action or omission complained of is the subject-matter of civil proceedings before any court of competent jurisdiction; or
  • Where the action complained of relates to the exercise of the prerogative of mercy; or
  • Where or action or omission complained of involves relations or dealings between the Government and a foreign Government, unless there has been an allegation of human rights violation by a citizen or resident of Zimbabwe.

Activities and Developments since Establishment
With the support of development partners and the Government, the Commission has since establishment been involved in the setting up of a full Secretariat and institutional budget support and related  activities including the following:-

  • Capacity building of members and staff in understanding their mandate and how to make use of the different mechanisms for protecting and promoting human rights including undertaking study visits to different National Human Rights Institutions in Africa; Training on election Monitoring and Reporting as well as Complaints Handling;
  • Participating in international human rights conferences such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) and International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC);
  • Conducting stakeholder meetings with Civil Society Organisations, Faith Based Organisations, the Business Community, the Legislature/Parliament, the Police, Prisons and Private Sector;
  • Monitoring electoral democracy such as the March 2013 Referendum and the harmonised elections of July 2013;
  • Celebrating international human rights events in conjunction with Government and Civil Society Organisations. These include the International Human Rights Day, International Women’s Day etc.
  • We are now receiving and processing complaints relating to human rights violations and maladministration. These include complaints inherited from the now defunct Public Protector office relating mainly to maladministration.

Priorities of the Commission

  • Establish and operationalize the Secretariat through capacity building of newly recruited staff especially on handling human rights complaints and Administrative Justice matters;
  • Make use of findings of the baseline survey (on the status of human rights) commissioned this year to set priorities and direct its strategic planning process;
  • Develop a long term strategic plan;
  • Engage with Government to expedite the terms and conditions of service for the Commissioners;
  • Engage the Executive and the Legislature to ensure independent and adequate funding and have a separate budget vote and thus qualify as a self-accounting institution in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution;
  • Continue collaborating with the Media, Civil Society and other stakeholders in different human rights  thematic areas including the Universal Periodic Review(UPR)

Challenges

  • Slow pace (bureaucratic red tape) in determining the terms and conditions of service for members of the Commission.
  • Lack of total control over funds allocated to the Commission, the aspect of being a sub vote to a line Ministry means we cannot have full control of the public funds allocated to the institution.
  • Release of less funds to the Commission by Treasury without taking into consideration the broad mandate it has on its shoulders that now includes the Public Protector role.
  • Lack of progress due to the unavailability of funds in affiliating with international human rights bodies such as the International Coordination Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC), Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) and The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR);
  • Proactive  response to human rights issues and emergencies such as the floods at Tokwe Mukosi, Tsholotsho, Muzarabani  and  the demolition of illegal housing structures in Chitungwiza, Epworth etc, that would  require immediate monitoring  response by the Commission and reporting to relevant authorities for remedial measures.

Achievements and Aspirations
As already indicated, we have from inception in early 2010 when we did not have a budget to talk about, been working closely with our development donor partners, the UNDP, the EU, the Royal Danish and Norwegian Embassies and the DIHR to build the capacity and operationalize the Commission, and are now at the stage where we are enhancing the visibility of the Commission to facilitate discharge of its huge mandate. We need fair publicity of our existence and truthful and objective reporting of our work from non-other than yourselves
In the above connection, I see a symbiotic relationship between the ZHRC and the Media. We cannot successfully deliver on our mandate of educating and promoting awareness of and respect for human rights and freedoms at all levels of society unless we have an amenable and friendly media – one which reports accurately, without fear, favour, bias or discrimination. In its daily work, the ZHRC will play a major role in analysing and addressing inequalities, discriminatory practices against women and other vulnerable groups and of course unjust power relations that emanate from such evil practices.

The ZHRC carries on its shoulders another huge responsibility in its public relations exercises of mitigating the fights and suspicions that have hitherto existed between government and civil society organizations. The media has an equal responsibility in this regard. When we emphasise the obligations of ‘duty bearers’ especially the State, and the requirement to comply with the law and respect human rights we will not be talking about regime change – and when we underline the need to respect all the human rights entitlements and claims of the people as the ‘right holders’, we will not be seeking division but creating harmony in society and we expect the media not to put words into our mouths but to say it as it is.
Dear colleagues from the media fraternity here gathered, may I now take this opportunity to exhort you to assist your Commission to guarantee the maintenance in this country of internationally acceptable human rights norms and standards, and to ensure that they are promoted, respected, protected and fulfilled at all times without fail.

I thank you ladies and gentlemen, for your attention.

A presentation by Chairman Elasto Hillarious Mugwadi at Dialogue with the Media in Zimbabwe organised by ZHRC-UNDP at Holiday Inn Hotel on 21st October 2014

Media Engagement Workshop – Overview of the Mandate and Work of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC)