The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) has no legal framework to enable it to function and has been idle since it was appointed by President Robert Mugabe a year ago.
ZHRC chairman Reginald Austin appeared before the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Human Rights last Thursday and told senators the commission has been lying idle since its inception.
“The reality is that as long as we do not have an Act of Parliament guiding us, we are not properly constituted and we do not know exactly what our powers are,” said Austin.
“We have not had any money except for donations from the UNDP (United Nation Development Programme) and human rights organisations in Geneva.”
He said the commission had submitted a budget of $8 million, but indications were they would get only
Austin said this year Zimbabwe should appear in Geneva for the Universal Periodic Assessment Process to enable the United Nations to rate the country’s status, but the ZHRC might fail to make a contribution to that effect because they were not fully equipped to go out and talk to people about human rights issues.
He said there were reports on human rights violations in Zimbabwe but the commission could not act because of the limitations.
“We cannot act on these reports because we have not been capacitated to go and find out if they (human rights violations) are true. If we had that capacity, we would then make annual reports to Parliament and to the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs,” he said.
Austin said in order for the human rights commission to be effective, it was imperative that they became a truly independent body without interference from the Executive.
He said it was important for his organisation to hold outreach meetings with the public because the understanding of human rights was distorted in Zimbabwe and was confined only to political and civil rights.
“Even our Constitution has been preoccupied with civil and political rights, and yet human rights include social and economic rights also in the sense that people have rights in education, health, environment and other rights like children and women’s rights,” he said.
Austin said a legal framework was important to enable the commission to review the state of Zimbabwe’s laws and find out whether the country was in compliance with human rights.