Section 233 of the Constitution outlines the objectives of the independent commissions. These are: to support and entrench human rights and democracy; to protect the sovereignty and interests of the people; to promote constitutionalism, to promote transparency and accountability in public institutions; to secure the observance of democratic values and principles by the State and all institutions and agencies of government, and government-controlled entities; and to ensure that injustices are remedied.
Zimbabwe’s new constitution was produced through a controversial public consultation process, which, though it left much to be desired, it did achieve a lot. In order to understand the inspiration behind the outlined objectives, we need to follow the historical processes that led to the inclusion of independent commissions in our constitution, especially the (NPRC).
Zimbabwe’s new constitution was written during the tenure of the Government of National Unity (GNU) between ZANU PF and MDC formations who signed the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in September 2008. Article VII of the GPA in establishing the Organ on National Healing Reconciliation and Integration acknowledges Zimbabwe’s legacy of violence and the need for intervention at national level. This legacy is well documented dating back to the colonial era. There were official and non-official efforts to address this legacy. One example is the Chihambakwe Committee of Inquiry of 1983 following the Midlands and Matebeleland atrocities in which over 20 000 civilians are alleged to have been killed by the Fifth Brigade. Another was the fact finding mission by United Nations special envoy Anna Tibaijuka following the Operation Murambatsvina in which over 700 000 people were displaced.
What is clear from this legacy is that there has never been an official comprehensive approach to remedy past injustices. Section 233 (f) has one of the objectives of the independent commissions as ensuring that injustices are remedied. This does not refer to ordinary day-to-day injustices like assaults, which can be addressed through conventional mechanisms like courts. Rather, this refers to gross violation of human rights, which in the past have been ignored, and for various reasons, the courts cannot deal with. These are, for example, the 700 000 victims of Operation Murambatsvina.
In this regard, we can see that the inclusion of the NPRC in the new Constitution reflects a traumatized nation’s desire to say ‘never again’ to gross human rights violations and to respond to the just needs of survivors.
Calls for a commission to address the legacy of violence in Zimbabwe date back to the period before 1999 when the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations endorsed the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum’s (the Forum) recommendations for a commission of inquiry. In February 1999, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) called for ‘a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with unresolved aspects of our past that hinder national integration.’ In 2010, the people consulted by the Forum in the Taking Transitional Justice to the People Outreach Programme spoke of a commission to deal with aspects of Truth, Justice and Reconciliation. In the same year, the Law Society of Zimbabwe in its model constitution proposed a ‘Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Conflict Prevention Commission’ to investigate past abuses, provide remedies for victims, and prevent future conflicts.
These developments and desires have more or less culminated in the NPRC, which is established by section 251 of the Constitution. Section 252 (a) states one of the functions of the NPRC as ‘to ensure post-conflict justice, healing and reconciliation.’
With the legacy that we have outlined above, resulting in thousands of victims in unknown graves and many orphans, the question is, Is important that Zimbabweans take the process of setting up the NPRC seriously? It is also critical that the government should allow for public participation. The public can only participate if they are fully informed of the process. While the parliament has already published the call for nominations, it has not made any effort to sensitize the public about the NPRC and its functions. This creates the danger of creating an elite commission to which survivors have neither access nor confidence. Such a commission that is set up hurriedly cannot possibly achieve justice, healing and reconciliation, because the commission itself will be alienated from the people it wishes to serve. The NPRC is not a culmination of state benevolence towards the survivors. Rather, it is a product of a long struggle for justice and accountability in Zimbabwe. The people of Zimbabwe have since 1998 been demanding such a commission,. Therefore, they deserve a commission that can fulfill their aspirations for a just and accountable society.
Having noted the above, it is perhaps important to point out that the NPRC that we now have in the Constitution, is in its name silent about truth and justice. Why is this when in COPAC outreach meetings many people asked for a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission? The Law Society’s model constitution proposed a Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Conflict Prevention Commission. ZCTU called for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In a survey carried out by the Forum and published in July 2011, 80% of respondents recommended rehabilitation for survivors through compensation, truth recovery, prosecution of offenders, counseling and an expression of contrition from perpetrators like an apology. Does this mean that despite the overwhelming demand for truth and justice, the NPRC will not focus on truth and justice?
It will be wrong and fatal to do so because experience the world over where over 40 commissions have been established with reconciliation and healing as goals, it is not possible to ignore truth and justice. Moreover, the very first function of the NPRC under section 252 (a) is to ensure post-conflict justice, healing and reconciliation. This means despite the silence on justice in the name of the commission, the substance is so much concerned about justice because it is impossible to achieve peace and reconciliation without justice. How else do we say ‘never again’ without assuring survivors that perpetrators of violations will be punished accordingly? In the same breath, how else do we discourage perpetrators from offending again without restoring the ‘teeth of the law’?
If one looks at the objectives of the independent commissions, as well as the specific functions of the NPRC, it becomes very clear that what the constitution has given in section 251 is a truth, justice, reconciliation and peace commission under the name National Peace and Reconciliation Commission. What matters now is how the government is going to implement these provisions, the caliber of the persons to compose the NPRC and how they are going to operate. These are issues that need the Zimbabwean people to rally around the process and ensure that we are not shortchanged. Civil society has already outlined the dangers posed by the procedure adopted by the Parliament. It is not too late to correct these mistakes and make the NPRC work in accordance with the vision of the many people of Zimbabwe who desire true peace and genuine reconciliation.
We can take this opportunity to speak loudly and say ‘Never Again’ to a culture of violence. It is everyone’s business!Post published in: Politics