Zim, NGOs bury hatchet

The opportunity to discuss their relationship came during a consultative meeting organised by the Harare office of the United Nations Development Programme on September 21 to 23 to discuss establishment of the proposed National Human Rights Commission.

Tension and suspicion have characterised relations between the two parties over the past few years, with the government viewing civil society as working with the opposition to remove it from power.

Civil society on the other hand argues that it has the mandate to criticise the government when its policies violate the rights of the people to whom it is supposed to be answerable.

In a joint communiqu’ issued after the meeting, the two parties said they had agreed to identify problem areas in their relationship and to make recommendations on how to improve it.

“The participants openly and honestly discussed the Government and CSOs perspectives on the historical and prevailing human rights environment in Zimbabwe, and the rationale for establishing the proposed national Human Rights Commission,” the communiqu’ said.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs permanent secretary, David Mangota, signed on behalf of the government while National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) board vice chairperson, John Chitekuteku, signed on behalf of civil society.

The communiqu’ said the meeting had agreed to follow the Paris Principles as the guiding principles or benchmark for the development of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.

In addition to diffusing tension and misconceptions between the two parties, the meeting allowed civil society to place pre-conditions for the establishment of a powerful, independent and objective Human Rights Commission.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, announced this year that the government was planning to amend the Constitution to provide for establishment of a Human Rights Commission.

He said the government would consult widely before establishing the Human Rights Commission for it to function effectively.

Speaking ahead of the consultative meeting last week, NANGO advocacy and communications manager, Fambai Ngirande, said since a Human Rights Commission was beneficial for the promotion and protection of human rights, there was need for civil society to make pre-conditions to its establishment.

Ngirande said the major pre-condition was a positive relationship between the government and civil society as the Commission required civil society to play a watchdog role over it.

Civil society needed leverage to investigate human rights abuses by either government or private sector players and bring these to the attention of the government, he said.

Meanwhile, a group of NGOs boycotted the weekend meeting saying they did not see any reason for establishing the Human Rights Commission given the recent assault of Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions leaders two weeks ago for attempting to demonstrate against alleged worsening economic conditions in the country.

Ngirande said his association would be reaching out to the dissenting group to convince it on the need to engage the government in dialogue to solve some of the challenges in the country.

The group, which included the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights, the ZCTU, The Media Institute for Southern Africa, the National Constitutional Assembly and the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, is involved in governance issues while the majority of those that attended are involved in social, economic and cultural issues.

Establishment of Human Rights Commissions has become a common benchmark for governments throughout the world for protecting and promoting human rights.

In Africa, Kenya and Uganda are some of the countries that have successfully established such Commissions. ‘ New Ziana.

October 2006
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