United Nations review exposes government on human rights

MUTARE – A United Nations sanctioned community consultation on human rights has exposed government’s slow process of ensuring respect and protection of constitutional rights.

Speaking on separate issues at a Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs led consultation, which is part of the UN Universal Review Process (UPR), civic society questioned central government’s sincerity on human rights.

The UPR process based on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights party state report systems seeks to track progress on the realization of human rights.

The four year cycling review process started in 2011 following submission of the Zimbabwe country report.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Country Coordinator Goretti Mudzongo said the process is undertaken to encourage member states’ adherence to human rights through review of progress on recommendations.

She said Zimbabwe received 177 recommendations and acceded to 130 of these which it intended to deal with through a National Plan of Action.

“This process is basically to review member states progress in implementing the plans of action in terms of protecting human rights.

“It is also an opportunity for stakeholders and non-state actors to give feedback on the human rights situation,” she said.

“So in this instance this process is a review of Zimbabwe to encourage human rights observation leading to the second cycle review after its first review in 2011 where it got 177 recommendations and adopted 130.”

The UPR process

It is informed by three reports, initially by the national report which is prepared by the State under review and which shall contain information on measures taken to promote, respect and protect human rights in the country as enshrined under the various international human rights instruments.

Other reports include a UN compilation report and a stakeholder report, which is meant to provide additional information by other relevant stakeholders such as CSOs and NHRIs.

A two-stage review is conducted: first, the review of a State’s report begins with the HRC Working Group on the UPR and then the review is concluded by the HRC itself.

Of the recommendations under review Zimbabwe in its National Plan of Action made undertakings to address some institutional and structural impediments towards enjoyment of human rights. One of the recommendations, to create an enabling legal environment, was met through the adoption a new constitution in 2013.

However civic society leader said the process itself was not without its weakness as it is obligatory to states which are signatories without enforcement of compliance.

National Association of Non Governmental Organizations (NANGO) director Dr Cephas Zinhumwe said while the UPR process itself was noble, its weakness was that it is based on obligatory undertakings of nation states.

He said although states want to uphold a good image internationally they also have a leeway to accept or reject some recommendations which are made by other nation.

He called on civic society to have a unified voice in lobbying the nation states which made recommendations that were not accepted to keep making such.

“The UPR process itself while it is noble is however weak because it is based on the will of the government to accept recommendations there is no enforcement of the recommendations so countries may choose not to comply.

“Basically obligations at international level are obligatory and not mandatory and although there are frameworks to monitor state compliance these fall short in ensuring compliance because they do not have armies or police to punish violators,” he said.

Civic society questioned government’s continued delays in harmonizing the new constitution, hailed for its progressive Bill of rights, to legislation which continues being arbitrary applied in courts.

Jonathan Chindewere of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance said there should be more visible steps in protecting health and education rights of children.

He said government must also expedite harmonization of the legal framework with the new constitution as continued use of laws which contravenes it does not bode well with protection of human rights.

“There has been a slow response in as far as protection of children’s rights to health by government especially here in Manicaland. Government is hiding behind the finger that there are no resources yet they carry programs where they sponsor their connected kids to learn in South Africa.

“There is serious need to rethink this approach and consider those vulnerable kids who can’t afford to go to school,” he said.

Cleophas Zvaita, a field officer with Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and the Rehabilitation of the Offender said too much effort was put on trivialities while people whose rights were being violated are neglected.

He particularly spoke to the rights of the detained which he said were virtually non-existent as training was focused on high levels officials.

“I have heard that there are trainings for prison officers on human rights but the number of 300 is just little when one thinks that there are over 11,000 prison officers.

“Moreover these trainings are for senior personnel while those that deal with prisoners on a day to day basis are not trained, these officers do not know their mandate and how then can they carry out their duties effectively,” he said.

Other civic leaders question the lack of deliberate supporting policies to operationalize independent human rights commissions, while others went on to question independence of these commissions. Some questioned the effectiveness of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission which has a limited time frame.

“We don’t know how far these commissions are  independent because there have not done anything tangible on the ground and some like the NPRC have a limited tenure and how does that work in terms of fully addressing the concerns of those that were wronged,” said one activist.