Zimbabwe's CSO’s launch advocacy charter at UN human rights council

A coalition of Zimbabwean Civil Society Organisations (CSO)’s on Friday 23 September 2011 officially launched a Human Rights Advocacy Charter on the sidelines of the 18th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Advocacy Charter was launched during a special event jointly organised by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Geneva-based Zimbabwe Advocacy Office.

The theme of the event was, ‘The Universal Peer Review Process (UPR) and the current human rights situation in Zimbabwe.’

In his opening remarks, Martin Okumu-Masiga, the deputy director of ICJ’s Africa Programme highlighted the importance of the forthcoming review of Zimbabwe’s compliance with its human rights obligations on 10 October 2011. Masiga noted that the review process was an opportunity for Zimbabwe to reflect on its human rights record and take corrective measures to address concerns that would have been raised by fellow states during the peer review process.

Officially commissioning the Advocacy Charter, Dzimbabwe Chimbga, a projects manager with ZLHR gave a narration of the process through which a coalition of over thirty organisations had undertaken since the beginning of 2010 to work together to put a report highlighting the key human rights issues in Zimbabwe, culminating in the validation and adoption of the Advocacy Charter.

Chimbga noted that although the UPR process did not allow for direct interventions by CSOs during the review itself there were mechanisms by which other stakeholders, CSOs included, can make submissions to the Office of the UN High Commission that would form part of the overall submissions to the state.

“CSOs can additionally lobby UN member states to relay certain questions or recommendations to the State under review during the actual review process. It is this space, among other state-targeted initiatives, that the coalition of CSOs had sought to explore,” said Chimbga.

Commenting on the current human rights operating environment in Zimbabwe, Chimbga noted that, notwithstanding the signing of the Global Political Agreement that brought about the coalition government, cases of human rights violations continued to be reported across the country.

He said in 2011, more than one thousand cases of various human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, persecutions and harassment of human rights defenders had been documented by ZLHR.

Chimbga urged the government to take advantage of the UPR process to evaluate its record in the past decade in the protection and promotion of human rights and take cogent measures to correct its failings that are well documented. The human rights lawyer said a case in point was the failure to address cases of impunity through investigating and prosecuting those guilty of human rights violations arising from the violent election of 2008.

With fresh elections imminent, Chimbga urged the government to create conditions that would allow for the holding of a free, fair and credible election by ensuring that the electorate freely exercised its right to vote. He declared that the era of disputed elections should become a thing of the past.

In response, the State representative only identified as Munhundiripo based at the Permanent Mission of Zimbabwe to the UN in Geneva acknowledged that the events of 2008 were ‘regrettable’.

He however defended the State arguing that no country in the world had a ‘pristine human rights record. ’

Munhundiripo pointed out that since the inception of the coalition government the human rights situation had greatly improved although it remained work in progress.

He also pointed towards the progressive amendments to most of the repressive legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) as evidencing the progress the State was making to address human rights.

Munhundiripo further blamed the poor performance of the economy for the poor service delivery and the falling standards in areas such as health and education. He concluded by suggesting that the on-going constitution making process could address most of the issues of political contestation that negatively impacted on the enjoyment of human rights.

Contributing to the discussion, Marlon Zakeyo, a Zimbabwean lawyer and coordinator of the Zimbabwe Advocacy Office observed that a lot of the human rights violations in Zimbabwe did not require material resources to be addressed. He gave an example of the brutal repression of people particularly around election period. All it required was for the State to desist from violating the rights of citizens without any impact to the State resources.

Whilst commending some of the positive statements made by the government delegate, Zakeyo urged the State representative to ensure that the same spirit of co-operation exhibited during the meeting should be translated into real gains on the ground for human rights defenders and ordinary people back home in Zimbabwe where the enjoyment of human rights still remain elusive to many.

The UPR is a United Nations-led state to state review process of each member States’ record of compliance with international human rights law. The process culminates in recommendations being made to the particular State on how it can enhance the protection and promotion of human rights of its people.

Zimbabwe will for the first time in history be subjected to the review process on 10 October 2011. It will remain key for civil society to follow up on the implementation of the recommendations on the ground during the period between Zimbabwe’s review next month and the next cycle of review in 2016.

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