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Heated debate as Rights Commission Bill is tabled in Parliament

Heated debate as Rights Commission Bill is tabled in Parliament

By Tichaona Sibanda
11 July 2012

Parliament on Tuesday discussed the amended Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission 
Bill amid an emotionally charged debate by MDC-T legislators, who say it 
protects perpetrators of the 2008 political violence.

Of major concern to the MDC-T is a clause in the Bill that prevents Human 
Rights Commissioners from investigating cases of rights abuses before they 
were sworn into office on 13th February 2009.

It means the commission does not have the power to investigate any of the 
political violence in 2008, or before. They can only deal with issues from 
February 2009 going forward.

The passage of the Bill through the committee stage was delayed due to 
opposition from MDC-T legislators who felt it didn’t address the contentious 
issues of killings, torture, and politically motivated violence preceding 
the 2008 presidential run-off election.

The Bill was moved by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa who told the House 
of Assembly that it had been approved by Cabinet last week after the 
contentious issues were finally resolved through the involvement of 
negotiators to the GPA.

The Rights Bill and the Electoral Amendment Bill, which also sailed through 
Parliament Tuesday, were debated in the Senate on Wednesday where they were 
expected to sail through. (At the time of writing the debate was still in 

In 2009 the unity government pledged to work towards human rights reform and 
it was hoped they would conduct credible and transparent investigations into 
the serious human rights abuses committed over many years, going back to the 
Gukurahundi massacres of the 1980’s.

However, a government minister said attempts at a national healing and 
transitional justice programme in Zimbabwe will not be possible while ZANU 
PF remains in power.

Moses Mzila Ndlovu, the co-Minister of National Healing from the MDC-N 
party, recently said that ZANU PF’s continued presence in government was 
undermining attempts to start moving the country forward.

SW Radio Africa was informed that the MDC-T negotiators to the GPA (Tendai 
Biti and Elton Mangoma) decided to ‘overlook’ the issue of violence, to 
ensure the Human Rights Commission is activated before the next elections. 
They appeared to be convinced that the bill would never have got through 
without this ‘concession’ to ZANU PF.

But Senator Obert Gutu, the MDC-T deputy Minister of Justice denied their 
negotiators ‘overlooked’ violence as both of them are proponents of a fair 
justice delivery system. ‘Look, those guys are two of the brainiest people 
in the MDC and to say they do not care about what happened to victims of 
violence is simply not true.

‘We see this as victory for the MDC because ZANU PF didn’t want this Bill at 
all. It’s an achievement for the MDC because we now have what we’ve been 
clamoring for, that is a Human Rights watchdog to monitor the elections.

‘I know it falls short of the people’s expectations but let’s also not 
forget that the Human Rights Commission has not been operational, in spite 
of the fact that its members have been in office for over two years, since 
being sworn in by Mugabe in March 2010,’ an MDC-T legislator said.

Legal experts say the Commission is needed to play a vital role during the 
next election, where it will have the powers to investigate rights 
violations in the country.

‘People should take solace in that any rights violations in the next 
elections would be dealt with. We are fighting to win an election, so as 
politicians we are saying lets not get bogged down on the past as we believe 
most of those cases will be dealt with under the Criminal Reform Act,’ the 
MP added.

Lawyer and pro-democracy activist Dewa Mavhinga said the passing of the Bill 
in Parliament should not mean there is impunity for past abuses. He said 
there should never be a failure to bring perpetrators of human rights 
violations to justice, denying the victims their right to justice and 

‘The challenge that is there now is to find appropriate mechanisms to deal 
with past abuses and ensure that the period preceding the formation of the 
unity government is also covered.

‘It is imperative to deal with the crimes of the past and not sweep them 
under the carpet in the spirit of reconciliation and nation building. 
Victims may feel that their voices are being ignored and it usually leads to 
aggrieved individuals taking action into their own hands, adding to the 
existing problems,’ Mavhinga said.

Many of those who have committed abuses in the past have remained free to 
carry out further acts of violence and intimidation, and those in the 
security forces have even been promoted.

In 2008 supporters and officials of ZANU PF, army officers, war vets and 
youth militia went on a state sponsored orgy of violence that left over 500 
MDC-T supporters dead, tens of thousands injured and half a million 

Commenting on the two Bills, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said 
Zimbabwe remains a country with immense challenges relating to the 
continuing culture of impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations.

In a statement on Wednesday, the human rights lawyers said without 
mechanisms to investigate and deal with past human rights violations the 
country will never be able to escape the vicious cycle of impunity, or 
ensure that such crimes never happen again. 


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