What are the Paris Principles?

The Paris Principles were drawn up at an international workshop in Paris in 1991. They detail how national human rights institutions should be composed and how they should function in order to protect and promote human rights. The principles were adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1992 and by the General Assembly in 1993, but will the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission ensure compliance with the principles?

Essential requirements of composition

1) Will the civil society be represented? No. There is nothing in the Constitution or the Bill which ensures adequate representation of human-rights activists among the nominees submitted to the President by the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders. There is nothing to say that the procedure by which nominees are selected must be transparent or consultative, which is a requirement emphasised by the Co-ordinating Committee.

2) Will there be infrastructure and adequate funding to make it independent of the Government? Not really. The Commission will have the legal power to appoint its own staff and acquire its own premises, but whether it can do so will depend on funding from the Government — which will depend on the goodwill of the Minister of Finance when he prepares the annual budget.

3) Will there be specific terms of office for members of a national human rights institution? Yes. Members will be appointed for five-year terms, renewable for one further term. The circumstances in which they must vacate their offices are spelled out clearly in the Schedule.

Essential responsibilities

– Will the ZHRC be given as broad a mandate as possible, and be able to monitor any situation of violation of human rights which it decides to take up? No. The only human rights violations which the Commission is empowered to investigate are those which infringe the Declaration of Rights in the Constitution or an international convention which has been “domesticated” as part of Zimbabwean law.

– Will it be able to advise the Government, Parliament and any other competent body on specific violations of human rights? Partially. The Commission has the function of recommending to Parliament effective measures to promote human rights and under clause 14 of the Bill, after conducting an investigation into a human rights violation, it will be required to report its findings and recommendations to the authority responsible for the violation and to the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs.

If no action is taken on its recommendations, it will be able to send a further report to the Minister for presentation to the President and Parliament – though the Minister is not obliged to present the report to those authorities. But there is no provision in the Bill for the Commission to advise the Government or Parliament on whether legislation or Bills comply with international human-rights standards.

– Will it co-operate with regional and international organisations? Yes, but. In paragraph 17 of the Second Schedule to the Bill the Commission is given power “to engage in any activity … in conjunction with … international agencies to promote better understanding of human rights violation issues”. But the Bill certainly doesn’t highlight this power.

– Will it co-operate with NGOs and other national organisations? Partially. The Commission has power to engage in activities in conjunction with other organisations “to promote better understanding of human rights violation issues”. But, “better understanding” limits the area of co-operation.

– Will it have a mandate to educate and inform in the field of human rights? Yes, but. The Commission’s main function is to promote awareness of human rights at all levels of society. But, the Bill does not indicate how the Commission is to exercise this function.

– Will it contribute to reports which the State is required to submit to international bodies in and yet preserve its independence? No. The Constitution gives the Commission the function of assisting the Minister to prepare such reports. This is not what the Paris Principles envisage. The Commission must not become a party to the Government’s report: it must provide independent comment on it and, where necessary, correct any inaccuracies or omissions in it.

Methods of operation

The Paris Principles lay down several requirements for the operation of national human rights institutions. In assessing the Bill against these requirements, it must be remembered that they lay down rules as to how a national human rights institution should operate in practice.

The Commission has not, in fact, begun operating, despite having been established more than two years ago, so in considering these requirements we shall merely indicate whether or not the Bill will permit the Commission to comply with them.

– Will the commission freely consider all questions falling within its mandate, no matter how they are brought to its attention? No. The Bill limits the Commission’s freedom of action within its limited mandate by imposing evidential and procedural restrictions.

– Will it hear any person and obtain any documents and information necessary for assessing questions falling within its mandate? No. There is nothing in the Bill allowing the Commission to obtain documents and information.

• Will it address public opinion directly or through the press, particularly to publicise its opinions and recommendations? No, but. There is nothing in the Bill to ensure this but also nothing prevent the Commission from doing this.

• Will it meet regularly in the presence of all its members at duly convened meetings? Yes. Under paragraph 6 of the First Schedule, the Commission will have to meet at least once every three months, and all Commissioners will have to be given at least a week’s notice of its meetings.

• Will it establish working groups from among its members and set up local or regional branches? Yes.

• Will it be in consultation with other bodies responsible for protecting human rights? Partially. The Commission will be able to co-operate with other bodies, but the Bill does not require or encourage it to do so.

• Will it develop relations with NGOs that promote and protect human rights? No. NGOs are not mentioned in the Bill.

ICC rating

How will ZHRC be rated by the International Co-ordinating Committee?

It is clear that, if the Bill is passed in its present form, the Commission will fall short of international standards and cannot hope to be awarded an “A” classification. The Commission, therefore, will not be fully recognised by the United Nations Human Rights Council or the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

This is a great pity, as Zimbabwe needs to take its rightful place in the community of nations.

Post published in: Politics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *