The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights undertook a fact-finding mission to the Republic of Zimbabwe from 24th to 28th June 2002. The mission was authorised by the 29th Ordinary Session of the African Commission held in Tripoli, Libya following widespread reports of human rights violations in Zimbabwe. Commissioner Jainaba Johm, Vice Chairperson of the African Commission, was leader of the Mission. Commissioner N Barney Pityana, the commissioner with responsibility for Zimbabwe, accompanied her. Ms Fiona Adolu, Legal Officer at the Secretariat of the African Commission, provided professional assistance.
In the light of our conclusions and findings, we offer the following recommendations :
On National Dialogue and Reconciliation
Further to our observations about the breakdown in trust between government and some civil society organisations especially those engaged in human rights advocacy, and noting the fact that Zimbabwe is a divided society, and noting further, however, that there is insignificant fundamental policy difference in relation to issues like land and national identity, Zimbabwe needs assistance to withdraw from the precipice. The country is in need of mediators and reconcilers who are dedicated to promoting dialogue and better understanding. Religious organisations are best placed to serve this function and the media needs to be freed from the shackles of control to voice opinions and reflect societal beliefs freely.
Creating an Environment Conducive to Democracy and Human Rights
We believe that as a mark of goodwill, government should abide by the judgements of the Supreme Court and repeal sections of the Access to Information Act calculated to freeze the free expression of public opinion. The Public Order Act must also be reviewed. Legislation that inhibits public participation by NGOs in public education,human rights counselling must be reviewed. The Private Voluntary Organisations Act should be repealed.
Independent National Institutions
Government is urged to establish independent and credible national institutions that monitor and prevent human rights violations, corruptions and maladministration. The Office of the Ombudsman should be reviewed and legislation which accords it the powers envisaged by the Paris Principles adopted. An independent office to receive and investigate complaints against the police should be considered unless the Ombudsman is given additional powers to investigate complaints against the police. Also important is an Independent Electoral Commission. Suspicions are rife that the Electoral Supervisory Commission has been severely compromised. Legislation granting it greater autonomy would add to its prestige and generate public confidence.
The Independence of the Judiciary
The judiciary has been under pressure in recent times. It appears that their conditions of service do not protect them from political pressure; appointments to the bench could be done in such a way that they could be insulated from the stigma of political patronage. Security at Magistrates’ and High Court should ensure the protection of presiding officers. The independence of the judiciary should be assured in practice and judicial orders must be obeyed. Government and the media have a responsibility to ensure the high regard and esteem due to members of the judiciary by refraining from political attacks or the use of inciting language against judges and magistrates. A Code of Conduct for Judges could be adopted and administered by the judges themselves. We commend to the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe for serious consideration and application of the Principles and Guidelines on the Right to Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa adopted by the African Commission at its 33rd Ordinary Session in Niamey, Niger in May 2003.
A Professional Police Service
Every effort must be made to avoid any further politicisation of the police service. The police service must attract all Zimbabweans from whatever political persuasion or none to give service to the country with pride. The police should never be at the service of any political party but must at all times seek to abide by the values of the Constitution and enforce the law without any fear or favour. Recruitment to the service, conditions of service and in-service training must ensure the highest standards of professionalism in the service. Equally, there should be an independent mechanism for receiving complaints about police conduct. Activities of units within the ZRP like the law and order unit which seems to operate under political instructions and without accountability to the ZRP command structures should be disbanded. There were also reports that elements of the CIO were engaged in activities contrary to international practice of intelligence organisations. These should be brought under control. The activities of the youth militia trained in the youth camps have been brought to our attention. Reports suggest that these youth serve as party militia engaged in political violence. We propose that these youth camps be closed down and training centres be established under the ordinary education and employment system of the country. We commend for study and implementation the Guidelines and Measures for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Africa (otherwise known as The Robben Island Guidelines) adopted by the African Commission at its 32nd Ordinary Session held in Banjul, The Gambia in October 2002.
A robust and critical media is essential for democracy. The government has expressed outrage at some unethical practices by journalists, and the Access to Information Act was passed in order to deal with some of these practices. The Media and Ethics Commission that has been established could do a great deal to advance journalistic practices, and assist with the professionalisation of media practitioners. The Media and Ethics Commission suffers from the mistrust on the part of those with whom it is intended to work. The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists could have a consultative status in the Media and Ethics Commission. Efforts should be made to create a climate conducive to freedom of expression in Zimbabwe. The POSA and Access to Information Act should be amended to meet international standards for freedom of expression. Any legislation that requires registration of journalists, or any mechanism that regulates access to broadcast media by an authority that is not independent and accountable to the public, creates a system of control and political patronage. We commend the consideration and application of the Declaration on the Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa adopted by the 32nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission in Banjul, October 2002.
Reporting Obligations to the African Commission
The team notes that the Republic of Zimbabwe now has three overdue reports in order to fulfil its obligations in terms of Article 62 of the African Charter. Article 1 of the African Charter states that State Parties to the Charter shall “recognise the rights, duties and freedoms enshrined in the Charter and shall undertake to adopt legislative or other measures to give effect to them.” Article 62 of the African Charter provides that each State Party shall undertake to submit every two years “a report on the legislative or other measures taken, with a view to giving effect to the rights and freedoms recognised and guaranteed by the present Charter.” The fact-finding mission therefore reminds the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe of this obligation and urges the government to take urgent steps to meet its reporting obligations. More pertinently, the mission hereby invites the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe to report on the extent to which these recommendations have been considered and implemented.