Rows over ZHRC Bill

Tension built this week over Zanu (PF)'s plans to enact a Human Rights Commission Bill which seeks to whitewash human rights violations that occurred before the GNU was formed.

The move follows confirmation by Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa that there would not be any public hearings on the Bill for reasons of ‘national security’.

The decision prompted scepticism from other parties and outrage from human rights defenders who claimed it was a move to muzzle the public from rejecting the amnesty that Zanu (PF) has imposed through the Bill. However, Chinamasa insisted that the ZHRC would be "fully independent of government" and "unprecedented" in its scope.

The Human Rights Commission is the first body tasked with investigating cases of rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Professor Reg Austin, a law professor and former Commonwealth secretariat's head of legal and constitutional affairs division, will chair the rights body. The members of the commission were agreed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and President Mugabe.

The ZHRC Bill that has been drafted by Chinamasa, however, lacks any provision to stop human rights violations, and the Commission can only recommend what the Minister should do. If the minister ignores the recommendation, the Commission’s authority would be immediately undermined.

The MDC has rejected the Bill in its present form and ordered Chinamasa to redraft it. Chinamasa has threatened to withdraw the Bill altogether, thus stalling reforms.

The full impact of the Bill means that perpetrators of the 2008 violence would be absolved of accountability for crimes against humanity. Clause 9(4)(a) of the ZHRC Bill prohibits investigation of human rights violations that occurred before 13 February, 2009.

Observers here see this as an admission by Zanu (PF) that the perpetrators of the 2008 election violence were part of the party's machinery. International human rights groups such as Genocide Watch and Amnesty International have unequivocally condemned Zimbabwe's post-election killings and have demanded accountability.

Amnesty International actually wants the United Nations to hold Zimbabwe accountable for atrocities and other human rights violations against its people during the 2008 vote.

If Chinamasa has his way, there will be no accountability for Zanu (PF)'s actions in 2008.

"He's a traitor, rewarded for betraying his own people," said rights activist, Pedzisai Ruhanya.

By allowing the ZHRC Bill to pass in its present form, a dangerous message will be sent that what happened in Zimbabwe in 2008 is acceptable. With such impunity, there is no guarantee for Zimbabweans that these crimes will not be repeated. In fact, it's virtually certain.

Post published in: Politics

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