Justice, national healing cannot be negotiated by elite

The decision by the Legislature to consent to the directives of the Executive to only investigate cases of human rights violations that happened after 13 February 2009 has re-ignited debates and discussion on the role of this commission and the period it should cover.

The greatest challenge facing Zimbabwe’s transition to democracy is the need to maintain a delicate balance between appropriately dealing with past human rights violations and atrocities and ensuring the perpetrators do not perceive democratisation as an excuse for retribution.

This challenge becomes more paralysing if dominant elements in the two of the three arms of the state, the Legislature and the Executive, perceive the human rights discourse from the contrasting standpoints of perpetrator and victim, election victory and political annihilation.

This polarisation has delayed the operationalisation of the Human Rights Commission.

The commission’s functions are:

• Promoting awareness of and respect for human rights and freedoms at all levels of society;

• Promoting the development of human rights and freedoms;

• Monitoring and assessing the observance of human rights in Zimbabwe; • Recommending to Parliament effective measures to promote human rights and freedoms;

• Investigating the conduct of any authority or person, where it is alleged that any of the rights in the Declaration of Human Rights has been violated by that authority or person; The people of Zimbabwe look to this commission for the protection, promotion and defence of their human rights. Of great concern is the legitimate expectation of the commission to receive through an Act of Parliament the powers to:

• Conduct investigations on its own initiative or on receipt of complaints

• Visit and inspect prisons, places of detention, refugee camps and related facilities in order to ascertain the conditions under which inmates are kept there, and to make recommendations regarding those conditions to the Minister responsible for administering the law relating to those places or facilities;

• Secure or provide appropriate redress for violations of human rights.

We therefore look forward to its full operation and cooperation from all arms of the state in the fulfilment of its mandate. We expect Parliament to take on board the concrete recommendations of the commission.

What is of major concern however is the need for the establishment of an institution, which deals specifically with all pre- and post-independence conflicts and human rights violations.

Resolution 1(a) of the 20 September 2010 Survivors Summit, held in Harare, clearly states that the Government must set up a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission whose mandate is to provide appropriate redress for human rights violations by facilitating the setting up of transitional justice mechanisms in Zimbabwe which are victim centred and community specific.

This transitional justice and national healing framework should not be a product of the elite negotiated in the comfort of the corridors of power at the exclusion of the communities directly affected by these human rights violations.

Such an arrangement as found in the composition of the Organ for National Healing and Reconciliation might not achieve the desired objectives because it alienates the affected communities.

The pronouncement by Minister Chinamasa in Parliament that the ONHR should be the one dealing with the pre-2009 violations will only get credence if the Principals are sincere and clear on the role and mandate of the ONHR.

We are mindful of the politically sensitive nature of post independent violations and we are therefore convinced that the principals in the Global Political Agreement, in their fear of dealing with the past have taken refuge in the ambiguous role of the ONHR.

This ambiguity even provides the ONHR with the justification of waylaying Zimbabweans with a purported policy document produced after consulting a handful elites ignoring the communities affected.

The ONHR will perennially be used in scapegoating politicians’ reluctance in dealing with the contentious issue of pre- and post-independence human rights violations and creating mechanisms for nation building.

For Government to prove its genuine intention to protect, promote and defend human rights there is need for it to create citizens’ confidence in public institutions.

This confidence is created and strengthened when these institutions operate transparently and are accountable to the citizenry through their elected representa-tives.

If the legislature is genuinely accountable to the electorate they should not consistently concur to the dictates of the Executive. Heal Zimbabwe

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