The Hon Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe Responsible for the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Cde. Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa
The Deputy Chairperson and Commissioners of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, (ZHRC)
The Hon. Speaker of Parliament, Advocate Jacob Francis Mudenda
The Hon. Chief Justice Cde Godfrey Guwa Chidyausiku
The Hon. Minister of State for Provincial Affairs for Harare Metropolitan Province, Mai Miriam Chikukwa and other Hon. Ministries here present
Hon. Chairpersons of Sister Independent Commissions and fellow Commissioners
Hon. President of the Chiefs’ Council, Mambo Fortune Charumbira
The Attorney General Cde Prince Machaya
The Prosecutor General Cde Johannes Tomana
The Commissioner General of Police, Cde Augustine Chocha Chihuri
The Commissioner General of Prisons and Correctional Services, Cde Paradzai Zimondi
Hon. Chairpersons of Thematic and Parliamentary Portfolio Committees
Hon. Judges of the High Court and Supreme Court
UNDP Country Director Mai Verity Myaga
Hon Acting Mayor of the City of Harare
Danish Embassy Charge Madam Signe
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Representatives of Development Partners
Directors of Civil Society Organisations
Members of the Media Fraternity
Ladies and Gentlemen
All protocol observed
My I take this opportunity to welcome you all to this very important ceremony which the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission has organized to mark the official opening of its National Head Quarters and Northern Regional Offices here at No 144 Samora Machel Avenue, Harare.
Today is indeed a momentous and joyous occasion for all of us. The journey of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission began with the creation of the Commission in 2009 in terms of Section 100R of the former Constitution, followed by the subsequent swearing in of Commissioners in March 2010, and enactment of the enabling legislation, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Act, (Chapter 10:30) in October 2012.
Honourable Vice President, the ZHRC has travelled a protracted road towards its operationalisation which was stalled by resource constraints.Despite these constraints, the Commission acknowledges with appreciation the notable support received from Government and Development Partners which has enabled it to produce milestone achievements in some critical areas of its work. For example, with this support from Government and Development Partners, the Commission was able to embark on a recruitment exercise for its Secretariat staff which started work in mid-June 2014.
The presence of a small but dedicated staff compliment has facilitated significant progress towards fulfillment of the Commission’s broad constitutional mandate to protect, promote and enforce human rights by advancing awareness of both the Commission and the Bill of Rights, monitoring places of detention, in particular prisons, and addressing specific human rights and administrative justice complaints brought before it.
As we gather here today to mark and celebrate the official opening of the Commission’s refurbished National Head Quarters and Northern Regional Offices, I wish to take this opportunity to provide more insight on the agonizing yet fulfilling journey the Commission has traversed. At inception, the Commission had no financial resources to set up and operate from its own separate premises as required by the Paris Principles, which expressly exhort National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) to have their own office premises as one of the essential pre-requisites for a truly independent and autonomous National Human Rights Institution. Between March 2010 and June 2013, Commissioners were operating from their private homes and convening meetings from borrowed offices assisted by a coordinator cum secretary, courtesy of the UNDP and an administrative assistant seconded from the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. Both of these two officials turned out to be indispensable cogs in the wheel.
From July 2013 to April 2014, the Commission occupied rented offices at Pearl House in the City Centre, and thereafter temporarily relocated to other rented premises in Belgravia, until January 2016. For your information ladies and gentlemen, these premises were not ideal for the Commission’s objectives of effectively executing its constitutional mandate from the perspective of ease access by and convenience to the public.
The good news is that the Commission was however, grateful that in September 2011, the Government of Zimbabwe through the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing had purchased this three – storey building for the Commission. The bad news is that the building formerly built and used as a restaurant and night club, was not ideal for use as offices from the onset. In order to be user friendly, it had to undergo extensive renovations and refurbishment, particularly on the ground floor which houses the main operational offices and the public reception, interviewing and meeting rooms, and other related facilities. This is the space where the ZHRC clients come for various services, key among them being the lodging of complaints to the Commission on alleged human rights violations and maladministration cases.
The renovations I am talking about were made possible through a grant of half a million United States dollars extended to the Commission by the Royal Danish and Norwegian Embassies. The Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) with whom we have a partnership agreement administered the grant. The European Union and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provided financial support for the architectural designs. These Development Partners, let me hasten to add, Honourable Vice President, have become the Commission’s all weather friends in aid of the Commission’s efforts to discharge its mandate effectively.
We also thank the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing for vigilantly supervising the renovation works to ensure standards were maintained. We equally thank the service providers and contractors who did the renovations and refurbishments namely, Pearce McComish Tarabuku Architects, Corry and Mukuyu Quantity Surveyors, Promecs Electrical Engineers, Twenty First Century Building Contractors and Powertech.
Ladies and Gentlemen, although the renovations of these premises are not yet complete for lack of sufficient funds, Commissioners and the Secretariat are overjoyed to be working from offices they call their own. The central location of these offices offering easy access to the general public is an additional bundle of joy. Our second office in Bulawayo located at No. 27A Fife Street and serving the five Southern Region provinces is however, rented accommodation.
The use of rented and temporary premises is not ideal for the effective execution of the ZHRC mandate as it raises sustainability concerns. In this regard, Honourable Vice President, your Commission is appealing through you to the government to secure for it permanent offices in Bulawayo to fulfill one of the Commission’s human rights mandate of ensuring equal and fair treatment of the country’s various geographical entities and inhabitants in terms of access to its services.
Coming back to the refurbished building we are officially opening today, may I advise Hon. Vice President that a number of issues relating to easy access to the Commission’s services still need to be addressed urgently. These include fitting of an elevator so that the physically challenged and the elderly can access the first and second floors of the building and of course establishment of a resource centre.
Hon. Vice President, I apologise for spoiling your day by harping so much on the need requirements of the Commission, but allow me Sir to finally advise that the Commission urgently requires financial, additional human and other related material resources to become a fully de-centralized and easily accessible institution with a physical presence in all parts of the country, spanning Provincial, District and even local community levels. The Commission has since embarked on Strategic Partnerships through its Thematic Working Groups with a number of Government Departments, Line Ministries and Civil Society Organizations with a physical presence in geographical areas where it has not yet decentralized to in order to promote its visibility and facilitate access to its services by the generality of our people.
Hon. Vice President, distinguished guests, I am happy at this juncture to inform you that the Commission submitted its application to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) for accreditation and the application was considered and a determination made on 12 May 2016 and the outcome has since been formally communicated and it is – ‘A’ Status. This means your Commission Hon. Vice President is now a full member of the Global family of National Human Rights Institutions enjoying all the rights of participating in the global human rights discourse. I wish on behalf of the Commission to thank our government, our all-weather development partners and civil society for the unflinching support rendered to the Commission since inception. This achievement we are jointly celebrating today would not have been possible without this support. The ‘A’ Status will however, only stand as such for all future purposes and intents if we can sustain and maintain best practices and standards in our human rights promotion and protection activities for the benefit of our people-in other words, if we continue to be Paris Principles compliant. In our working partnerships, there should therefore be no room for relaxation as this enviable goal is attainable and of course, as it is our desire to maintain the ‘A’ Status until eternity.
I thank you.