The ICJ today urged the country’s authorities to take immediate measures to fully reconstitute the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) after its operations were effectively suspended following the expiry of the terms of office of four of its Commissioners on 7 May 2020.
One Commissioner had already resigned in 2018 meaning that the ZHRC no longer has the constitutionally required quorum for it to make certain decisions that are fundamental to the protection of human rights in Zimbabwe.
“The inability by the ZHRC to fully execute its constitutional mandate has serious implications on the ability of individuals -in particular victims of human rights violations -to access justice,” said Arnold Tsunga, Director of the ICJ Africa Programme.
“The role of ZHRC, as Zimbabwe’s national human rights institution is critical in providing an avenue for redress to victims of human rights violations and the general public,” he added.
Zimbabwe has been witnessing an escalation of human rights violations requiring investigation by a fully functioning and effective Commission.
This spate of human rights violations has had a disproportionate impact on the poor and economically vulnerable in the context of the Covid-19 lockdown measures.
There have been an increase in targeting of human rights defenders, civil society leaders and political opposition, which have included acts of enforced disappearance and torture and other ill-treatment.
The ICJ underlined that while redress for such violations required strong and independent judiciary as a guarantor of human rights, the role of fully functional ZHRC was critical to complement that of the judiciary.
The ICJ called upon the authorities in Zimbabwe, and in particular the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders, to act expeditiously to ensure that the vacant positions are filled without any further delay to enable the ZHRC effectively perform and discharge its constitutional mandate.
The ICJ said that failure by the responsible authorities to act expeditiously to fill the vacant positions violated the core values and principles the Constitution of Zimbabwe, in particular section 324 of the Constitution which provides that “all constitutional obligations must be performed diligently and without delay”.
In addition, the President to fill in any vacant position within three months of death or resignation of a Commissioner. The position of Commissioner Khombe became vacant on the 30 October 2018, and has not been filled to date.
The ZHRC is established as an independent institution under Chapter 12 of the Zimbabwe constitution with the general objective to “support and entrench human rights and democracy; 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.”
On 26 May the Chairperson of the ZHRC, Dr. E.H Mugwadi, wrote a letter notifying “partners and stakeholders” of the retirement of four Commissioners, namely Dr Ellen Sithole (former Deputy Chairperson), Dr Joseph Kurebwa, Kwanele M. Jirira and Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube with effect from 7 May. The Chairperson noted that the retirement had left the Commission lacking the quorum to fulfil its constitutional obligations, particularly with respect to make policy resolutions and the adoption of monitoring and investigation reports. The Commission had also been unable to adopt Commission reports its activities.
International standards for effective and credible National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) are contained in the United Nations Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (Paris Principles), which provide that NHRIs must be adequately resourced with sufficient institutional capacity to perform and discharge their responsibilities.
Arnold Tsunga, ICJ Africa Director, t: +263 777 283 249; e-mail: arnold.tsunga(a)icj.org
Blessing Gorejena, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser, t: +263 772 151 989, e-mail: Blessing.Gorejena(a)icj.org