HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsNPRC strives to balance punitive, retributive and restorative justice

NPRC strives to balance punitive, retributive and restorative justice


THE National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) mandate is provided for in section 253 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No 20) Act of 2013 and the NPRC Act Chapter 10:32 of 2018.

It was as a result of the realisation of the social and political will and aspirations of Zimbabweans to copy their past as they transit into a harmonious future. Its full meaning cannot be well understood in isolation, but rather it should be examined within the broader context of the evolution of peace and security on the international arena that is at the United Nations (UN) and subsequent regional groups of the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (Sadc).

As far as history has been recorded, the majority of ethnic groupings and modern States have evolved out of conflicts over political, economic, social and cultural or territorial differences. This has remained the greatest threat to international peace and security throughout the world. As a result of globalisation and colonisation, Western approaches to conflict resolutions continued to dominate on the international scene with the vast influence emanating from the Nuremberg war trials and conventional courts which tended to favour retributive justice as a mechanism to resolve conflicts.

These mechanisms tended to favour punitive measures on perpetrators with little regard to conflict management and ignoring the welfare of the victims and survivors. As the need for governments from a violent past and repression to societal stability grew louder and louder there was a realisation of the need to strike a balance between retributive justice and restorative justice, the need to punish the offender and the need to rehabilitate his/her society for the purposes of fostering reconciliation and integration.

The UN began to bear the brunt of oversubscribed costs associated with peacekeeping missions as conflicts continued to recur. It was out of this predicament that the UN Security Council requested its secretary-general to make an analysis and recommendation to strengthen peacekeeping and peace-making.

In 1992, then UN secretary-general Boutros-Boutros Ghali’s response to the request was a document entitled An Agenda for Peace wherein he outlined four key essential elements (four Ps) to deal with conflict: (1) Preventive diplomacy/conflict prevention — early warning systems’ mechanisms to prevent conflicts, (2) Peace-making/conflict resolution — failure to prevent then engage in peace-making, (3) Peacekeeping/conflict management — monitoring and implementation of agreed framework, (4) Peacebuilding/conflict transformation — addresses root causes of the conflict to rebuild and promote reconciliation. The four UN essential elements which later cascaded down to regional groupings and individual member States was adopted as international best practice mechanisms to resolve conflicts.

As a result of the end of the Cold War era, there was a spectacular rise in the number of conflicts hence increased demand for UN intervention, the additional burden on the UN role from peacekeeping to peace-making, and peacebuilding. The UN increasingly recognised the role of regional and sub-regional organisations in resolving conflicts.

The African continent began to witness dramatic changes because of the proliferation of intrastate conflicts, deteriorating the security landscape as a result of Western powers diminished interest in the colonial State structure in Africa. Taking a cue from the 1992 UN Agenda for Peace initiative, in 1993 the Organisation of African Union established a mechanism for conflict prevention, management, and resolution (CPMR) symbolising the existence of an institutional structure for the maintenance of peace and security on the continent.
In 1996, Sadc responded by launching the Organ for Politics, Defence and Security (OPDS), which emphasised the need to establish a framework for peace and co-operation as a prerequisite for development.

In 2001, the OAU was replaced with the AU which was borne out of the need to improve the maintenance of peace and security in the region, hence in no time by 2002 a replicate of the UNSC, the AU Protocol on Peace and Security Council (PSC) and the subsequent policy on post–conflict reconstruction and development. This protocol through the policy sought to combine and house the UN Agenda for Peace essential elements, OAU mechanism in CPMR and Sadc OPDS peace efforts under the same roof. It is believed that there is no other regional grouping with a peace architecture like the AU.

And in 2005 the UN further strengthened the institutional gap by establishing a peacebuilding commission, an advisory body to the UN. It is already at work in The Gambia, Burundi, Solomon Islands and the Sahel.

The emergence of these peace architectures on the international scene marked a major increase in the formation of peace commissions by individual member States which tended to favour quasi-judicial mechanisms such as restorative justice and peace-building as approaches to conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction respectively.

With greater influence emanating from the global environment and the resilience and political will of the Zimbabwean people, the notion to develop a credible infrastructure for peace with a broader mandate in Zimbabwe first explicitly appeared on article 7.1(c) of the Global Political Agreement, a Sadc “midwifery” document guaranteed by the AU and the UN.

It is against this background that it resulted in the formation of the NPRC and the nature of the mandate assigned to it. There is some consensus on the international arena on the general nature of the commission and the mandate that must be assigned to it though some finer variations are then informed by varying historical, socio-economic and political backgrounds of a given entity. The nature of the commission cannot be divorced from its mandate.

Bronkorst (2003) posits that the generally agreed tenets of the peace commission should be as follows:

lSanctioned by the State

lLimited lifespan

lA mandate to examine a known given specific period

lRecommendations to consolidate democratic values and inculcate a human rights culture that promotes peace and reconciliation.

The mandate of NPRC according to section 232 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No 20) Act 2013 speaks to the following;

  • Peaceful resolution of past conflicts to foster national healing, unity, reconciliation, and cohesion
  • To be alert to the present in detecting and deflating conflicts — early warning mechanisms
  • Safeguarding the future by employing peace-building mechanisms for sustainable peace
  • Employing of research, investigations and hearings as key methodologies in executing the mandate.
  • Hence challenges and complexities surrounding the nature of the NPRC mandate are:
  • No given timeframe, review of the period is open-ended.

Literally, the bulk of peace commissions are established to review a given specific period.

The Truth and Justice Commission of Mauritius established in 2009 has attempted to cover a given period of 370 years, the longest period that a commission has ever covered. By the same token, the NPRC mandate covers an open-ended period.

lGenerally, peace commissions are set up to primarily look at the past with little regard for the present and the future.

While the NPRC has a limited lifespan of 10 years, the complexity revolves around the five-year term limits of its commissioners. In normal circumstances, the lifespan of the commission and commissioners should run concurrently for them to take full responsibility for the final report.

 Donald Chirunga is a general manager for research and knowledge management at the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission.

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