Human rights protection undermined

While addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review on Zimbabwe’s human rights record, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa painted such a glossy picture and blamed any failure to protect human rights on so-called ‘illegal sanctions’.

Responses from a number of UN member states including Namibia, Cuba, Venezuela and China were to call for the lifting of the so-called sanctions. This underlines Zimbabwe’s human rights protection challenge: that a dishonest analysis of the challenge, coupled with grandstanding and politicization, may attract a chorus of support from friends, but not solutions that enhance human rights promotion.

Ignoring the violence

Chinamasa’s human rights report completely ignored the horrific electoral violence witnessed in 2008 and the fact that, despite several witnesses coming forward with credible reports, police did not comprehensively investigate or arrest known perpetrators of violence leading to widespread impunity.

Instead of proper introspection that properly identifies key gaps between human rights aspirations and the reality on the ground, the government chose to give the impression that all is well, with Chinamasa at one point proclaiming that the Public Order and Security Act does not violate people’s rights to peaceful assembly. Rather than look closely at the collapse of the health sector and over 2000 jobless nurses in the country, focus was placed on repeatedly reminding the international community that Zimbabwe has a 92% literacy rate.

In further politicizing human rights discourse, the government approach has been to elevate the promotion and protection of socio-economic rights above civil and political rights, ignoring the inter-connectedness and interdependence of all human rights. More importantly, it is untrue that the government has given proper attention to socio-economic rights as evidenced by a collapsed health sector that failed to prevent a cholera epidemic in 2008.

Not domesticated

It does not help for government officials to boast that the country has ratified a host of international human rights instruments when those instruments are not domesticated to make them directly applicable in the country. It would seem that ratification of human rights instruments becomes a convenient cover. Yes, on paper Zimbabwe is party to several human rights treaties, but the question is, how are ordinary Zimbabweans benefiting? There is a need to frankly acknowledge that there is a huge gap between what is on paper and the reality on the ground as far as human rights are concerned and that the gap must be closed urgently.

Failure to fully acknowledge the magnitude of our human rights situation leads to complacency and reduces the United Nations to a glorified talk-shop with no tangible results to benefit ordinary Zimbabweans. Furthermore, the politicization of the human rights discourse entrenches the false dichotomy between civil and political rights on one hand and social and economic rights on the other. This division undermines efforts to place the emphasis on the connections between the right to information and sustainable social and economic development.

More info, no famine

As renowned economist, Amartya Sen, noted, with adequate access to information and scrutiny of government policies, no country would experience a famine. The realization and enjoyment of social and economic rights in the context of economic stability and development is dependent on the realization of civil and political rights that result in a stable political environment.

For Zimbabweans to fully enjoy the full range of rights they need a stable, accountable government that takes care of the needs of the most vulnerable members of society.

For lasting improvements in social conditions and in the quality of life of the largest number of Zimbabweans, it is necessary to ensure that the political matrix is correct. It is therefore essential that the inclusive government of Zimbabwe focuses on ensuring that the country has genuinely free and fair elections to usher in a legitimate government.

At present the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is pegged at over 90%, the country is the fourth hardest hit by HIV/AIDS in the world, with some 60, 000 new infections recorded in December 2010 alone. A comprehensive way to address these challenges would be to understand them in the context of a failure of political leadership. Therefore, to demand the right to information and the right to vote freely in the absence of violence and intimidation becomes a bread and butter issue.

This understanding puts those groups fighting for civil and political rights and those focusing on humanitarian issues such as food aid and distribution of AIDS drugs on common ground. The two fields are interrelated, interdependent and mutually reinforcing. They both share a common vision and goal of ensuring a better quality of life for all. All we need is for leaders in government to desist from politicizing human rights protection and focus on decisive steps that translate human rights commitments into tangible benefits on the ground.

Post published in: Politics

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