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08 FEBRUARY 2019

THE ROLE OF INDEPENDENT COMMISSIONS IN TIMES OF CRISIS
INTRODUCTION
The past few months have been trying times for the people of Zimbabwe. In times like these, very few are able to stand up and insist on right in the face of might. Many go under
cover and sing the song that preserves their lives. We have however seen the rise of many brave man and women who have insisted that fundamental values of freedom and liberty
be upheld and that justice must be pursued for the many victims of the ongoing atrocities. In this edition of the NPRCWatch, we are expanding the scope of the discussion to look at
not only the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) but all relevant independent commissions that are established to support democracy and entrench human
rights through Chapter 12 of the Constitution. We look at the role of these commissions in the times of crisis when violations of human rights are on the increase. It is for times like
these that such commissions were established.

The Context: Post Election Zimbabwe and the Rising Tensions
No justice or truth for victims but reward for the killers
The post-election environment in Zimbabwe has continued to see the rising tensions,
economic meltdown as well as growing civil unrest. Following the August 1, postelection violence, the Montlanthe Commission’s report, largely ignored by the
government has failed to bring truth and justice to the victims of August 1 shootings. In
fact, the Newsday of 18 December 2018 reports that President Mnangagwa
promoted commander Brigadier-General Sanyatwe, the man who commanded the
military unit that shot at unarmed protesters. By this, impunity was cemented. The
message was that ‘killing pays’, hence the military did not hesitate to shoot again
hardly a month after the release of the Montlanthe report.

The Zimbabwe Gender Commission
Serious allegations have surfaced against the military of upto 16 cases of sexual
violence including 15 cases of rape against women. The Zimbabwe Gender
Commission (ZGC) is mandated by section 246 of the Constitution to investigate cases
of human rights violations relating to gender and pursue appropriate remedy for the
victims. We must express our disappointment at the deafening silence of the ZGC
regarding the issues of sexual violence that were reported during the shutdown. The
ZGC needs to be seized with issues of organised violence against women. To the
consolation of victims, a number of voluntary organisations have stepped forward to
assist the victims and make strong statements against organised sexual violence against
women.

The Zimbabwe Media Commission
The return of state violence
Between 14 January and 5 February 2019, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
reports that 17 people were killed in the violence, the majority of whom were killed by
the military through gun shots. 16 women suffered sexual abuse at the hands of
soldiers, among many other serious violations. Following the violations, NTJWG
issued an alert on crimes against humanity and called for the prosecution of the
perpetrators. Statements from the state have indicated that there is no will to
prosecute the offenders. The killings have led to renewed calls for national dialogue.

The role of independent commissions in this madness
In this madness, evidence has come out that the state has committed gross violations
of human rights. The commissions that are key to this issue are the Zimbabwe Human
Rights Commission (ZHRC), the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC), the
Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) and the National Peace and Reconciliation
Commission (NPRC). In a way, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) sees well
the bloody fruits of the manner in which it managed elections and may need to learn
that peaceful resolution of disputes ahead of a crucial election is probably more
helpful that its ‘water under the bridge’ approach which in reality has actually thrown
the nation under the bus.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission
Many victims are greatly indebted to the work of the ZHRC in these atrocities. Ahead
of the Montlanthe Commission, the ZHRC received complaints of the state violence
against civilians. The Commission responded, investigated the violations and issued a
statement against the violations of human rights. Following the atrocities related to the
shutdown, the ZHRC carried out an investigation and found that armed and
uniformed members of the Zimbabwe National Army and the Zimbabwe Republic
Police instigated systematic torture. The torture was organized, said the ZHRC. It also
found that the method of arrest and detention that was used by the police and soldiers
amounted to arbitrary arrests and detention, a crackdown as opposed to law
enforcement. The government dismissed the report as biased and offside on what
really transpired. The ZHRC did play its role effectively in exposing the fallacy of state
denial of the atrocities. As noted in the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum report,
On the Days of Darkness in Zimbabwe, the atrocities are still ongoing by the time of the
compilation of this report. The Constitution in section 243 (1) (f) and (g) gives the
ZHRC power to investigate any authority or person alleged to have violated human
rights. This will help in ensuring the right to truth for victims. The Commission has
power to also secure redress for the victims. These Constitutional powers mean that
the ZHRC can take it upon itself to pursue the issues complained of by the victims
against the state and make sure that perpetrators are brought before the courts.

The Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) is established by the Constitution to
uphold, promote and develop freedom of the media. During the Shutdown, there
were a lot of complaints received regarding the violation of fundamental freedoms as
they relate to the media as well as the attacks on journalists doing their work. The
attacks include murder by the military officers of at least one journalist Elizabeth
Zimunda. The silence of the Commission in this area is shocking to say the least and
throws into question its independence. The state media’s role in encouraging state
violence has been outstanding. The ZMC, has an obligation under section 249 (b) to
enforce good practices and ethics in the media. In fact, the ZMC has not stepped into
its role in all the functions stipulated in the constitution.

The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission
Following the August 1 killings, the NPRC indicated that they would not interfere with
the work of the Montlanthe Commission but would wait to interact with its findings.
The NPRC however has not yet responded to the findings of the Montlanthe
Commission. On 14 January 2019, following the outbreak of violence in Harare, the
NPRC called for a press conference which it cancelled 40 minutes later without
making any pronouncement. On 31 January 2019, the NPRC convened a consultative
meeting with a few selected stakeholders to develop a framework for comprehensive
dialogue. However, the process was hijacked by the Office of the President which
started its own consultations leading to the meeting of political parties on 6 February
2019. This again has exposed government’s tendency of undermining the work of
constitutional commissions. Not much since has emerged from the NPRC regarding
attending to the needs of the victims after the violence or playing a prominent
leadership role on pushing for national dialogue. That role has been played more
effectively by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches which on 7 February 2019
successfully convened the National Leaders Breakfast Meeting. The reason why the
NPRC is struggling for space in an area that it is constitutionally mandated maybe
because of questions regarding its capacity, its secretariat and its independence. In a
survey conducted by the NTJWG in November 2018 with victims of organised
violence, 72.3% believe that the NPRC is not independent and is beholden to
government and political influence. These fears have been confirmed by the
statement in the Zimbabwe Independent of 8 February 2019, where the Chairperson
of the NPRC Justice Nare is quoted as saying, “…we are directly answerable to Vice
President Kembo Mohadi.” This is wrong and worrying for the many victims who
expect the NPRC to be truly independent.
Trust for any independent commission is important. And it must be earned, it can't be
demanded. The NPRC needs to step into its leadership position and gain the trust of
the stakeholders especially the victims if it is to play a positive role in the developments
in our country otherwise it risks being ignored and its role will be taken over by more
credible entities. In our Minimum Standards for an Effective NPRC, we have stated
clearly that ‘the legitimacy of the NPRC does not end with its constitutionality, but
perpetuates in the manner in which it is going to conduct its work’. (NTJWG, 2015)

Conclusion
Zimbabwe is at a crossroads. Promoting the fundamental values of human rights and democracy requires that independent commissions step up onto the leadership positions. To
do so requires not only independence and competence but also vigilance. Not many commissions are doing well in standing for justice and standing with the victims. We do pay
tribute to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) which has in the period under review has stood firm. More could be done however, in the areas of ensuring that there
is redress for the victims. The NPRC, ZGC, and the ZMC, still have a lot of work to do in order to win the confidence of a society under siege from its own government.

Suite 4, Number 1 Raleigh Street, Harare, Zimbabwe. Tel:+263 242 770170. Email: info@ntjwg.org.zw

www.ntjwg.org.zw
REF PS02/2019NTJWG

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