ZHRC statement on the deteriorating socio-economic & security situation in Zim

COMMISSIONS WATCH

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC/Commission) has noted with concern the fast deteriorating socio-economic and security situation in Zimbabwe triggered by an assortment of government policy statements and decisions. These have had far-reaching effects on the household economy causing losses in incomes and savings thereby worsening poverty levels in the country.

The ZHRC fully understands the dire macroeconomic situation in the country and the need to make radical decisions to remedy the situation. Whilst such austerity measures meant to transform the performance of the economy may be commendable, due care and diligence must be exercised to protect the rights and well-being of especially the vulnerable members of society. In particular, it is important to develop pro-poor policies including the setting up of effective social safety nets to ensure access to basic goods and services by all. Section 13 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe implores the State and all institutions of Government to ensure equitable development. Further, Section 13 (2) requires Government to involve the people in the formulation and implementation of development plans and programmes that affect them.

It is the view of the Commission that most of the austerity measures and decisions are being made with little or no consultation of the relevant stakeholders and citizens and in many instances sound and appear as almost arbitrary. As a result, there is no buy-in or support for these new policies leading to implementation challenges with some key players and citizens resisting the changes. Related to this, there are no structured policy review mechanisms in place to assess and understand both intended and unintended impact of government decisions and policies on citizens and the economy. All policies, no matter how well – meant, can have a negative impact that disproportionately affects the disadvantaged members of society. Such members of society need State support to cushion them so that they cope with the consequent hardships. It is now increasingly difficult for poor families to put food on the table, access medical services, send children to school or enjoy any other socio-economic rights enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

The Government of Zimbabwe, outside pronouncing a number of austerity measures, has not provided a clear road map to economic recovery and prosperity. Key determinants of economic growth are not being dealt with decisively. For example, the present currency confusion is leading to much speculation and rent-seeking behaviour by most economic agents. Section 317 of the Constitution is very clear and gives the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe the mandate to: regulate the monetary system; protect the currency of Zimbabwe in the interest of balanced and sustainable economic growth; and, formulate and implement monetary policy. It is the ZHRC’s considered view that the country will not attract much investment or realise economic development before decisively dealing with the currency confusion.

The ZHRC therefore calls upon Government to take the lead in convening a platform for national dialogue with partners in all sectors including captains of industry, labour unions, independent commissions, civil society, the opposition and ordinary citizens in order to find lasting solutions to the prevailing economic challenges to ensure respect and observance of human rights and promote peace and security in the country. We urge the Government to be a listening and caring administration, not worried about perceptions of weakness or climb-down because of accommodating various sectors and viewpoints in addressing the national crisis that Zimbabwe finds itself in.

The Commission has also noted the decision by a number of organisations and individual members of society to demonstrate and petition as a way of communicating their frustrations and demanding answers from the Government of Zimbabwe as a duty bearer. The frustrations are understandable, and the right to demonstrate is provided for and protected under section 59 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. The ZHRC takes this opportunity to emphasize that this provision protects the right but also gives the responsibility to the demonstrators to respect the right of others by demonstrating peacefully. The Commission calls upon all organisers of and participants in demonstrations to take this responsibility seriously by having concrete measures to ensure peace. Experience has taught us that criminal and rogue elements of society will always take advantage of public demonstrations and protests and proceed to loot, destroy property and even cause bodily harm to innocent bystanders. The Commission, therefore, does not condone the violence that has characterised previous and current demonstrations. Organisers of demonstrations must, therefore, take full responsibility for their decisions and actions so that the enjoyment of their rights is not in violation of the rights of others. Equally worrying is the abuse of social media platforms by demonstrators and other faceless characters to threaten and intimidate people as well as distort facts to achieve their ulterior motives, in the process causing alarm and despondency amongst the citizens. The ZHRC calls upon all stakeholders to exercise restraint and uphold peace and at the same time urges the Government not to violate citizens’ rights to information by blocking social media and internet services.

In addition, the Commission urges law enforcement agents to protect people and property in line with their constitutional mandate and not to cause harm and loss of life to the protesting citizens. In this regard, the Commission has noted with concern the reports of loss of life and limp during the current demonstrations, attributed mainly to the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP). The Commission has also received reports of the security sector badging into people’s homes during the dead of the night on Monday 14th January 2019 and early morning on Tuesday 15th January 2019, beating up people and forcing them to clear barricaded roads. As the Commission, we are of the view that such heavy-handedness on the part of the security sector does not solve our national problems but only helps to create resentment and anger amongst the citizens which in turn breeds the violence that we are currently experiencing.

Lastly, as Zimbabweans, let us all remember that this is our country together, and we must all work to ensure a Zimbabwean society where everyone enjoys their rights and where citizens can thrive and prosper whilst building a better country for future generations.

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