The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission has been carrying out outreach programs following complaints that it does not cater for the needs for local people.
The organization has staged various streets shows in various towns and cities including Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo, where some residents urged it to publicize its activities, which include protecting and enforcing human rights.
In some areas, especially in Matabeleland region, local people were worried about the failure of the ZHRC in addressing atrocities committed by a North-Korean-trained crack, the Five Brigade, which is said to have massacred as many as 20,000 supporters of the late PF Zapu leader Joshua Nkomo.
Mr. Nkomo’s party was seen by President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party as a threat to its push towards a one-party state crafted along the lines of China’s Communist Party.
A large number of people have also urged the ZHRC to investigate the killing of almost 200 people before and after the 2008 general elections. At the same time they demanded that the Commission should also investigate the abduction of hundreds of people since independence by suspected state security agents.
Some local residents, who spoke to Studio 7 during a roadshow conducted by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission at Sekusile Shopping Centre in the Nkulumane high density suburb, said they were not aware of the existence of the Commission and that it needed to do more in order to be able to carry out its work.
One of the locals, who owns a commuter omnibus and only identified himself as Moyo, said police on the country’s roads appear to be violating people’s rights.
Moyo said ZHRC needs to teach ordinary people more about such issues.
Another resident, Shadreck Chinembiri, said the publicity campaign is welcome and noted that the Commission should not use the promotion as a bid to get more funding without offering relevant help to ordinary people.
ZHRC is carrying out the campaign, dubbed “Taking Human Rights to the People” in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
ZHRC Commissioner, Sethule Moyo, confirmed that the campaign was mooted after a survey showed that few people are aware of what the Commission’s activities.
He said the Commission decided to collaborate with some organisations that are already involved in similar work in order to highlight its duties.
Kenias Shonhai, a lawyer with the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, said although government has sometimes seen civic society organisations as intruding in the work of promoting human rights, it is imperative for such organisations to carry out such work in order to complement government efforts.
The publicity campaign has been conducted in Harare and Matabeleland South’s Matobo district.
According to the Zimbabwe Constitution, the ZHRC is supposed to promote awareness of and respect for human rights and freedoms at all levels of society; promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights and freedoms; monitor, assess and ensure observance of human rights and freedoms; to receive and consider complaints from the public and to take such action in regard to the complaints as it considers appropriate; protect the public against abuse of power and maladministration by state and public institutions and by officers of those institutions and investigate the conduct of any authority or person, where it is alleged that any of the human rights and freedoms set out in the Declaration of Rights has been violated by that authority or person.
It is also supposed to secure appropriate redress, including recommending the prosecution of offenders, where human rights or freedoms have been violated; direct the commissioner-general of police to investigate cases of suspected criminal violations of human rights or freedoms and to report to the Commission on the results of any such investigation; recommend to parliament effective measures to promote human rights and freedoms and conduct research into issues relating to human rights and freedoms and social justice.
The ZHRC is supposed to also visit and inspect prisons, places of detention, refugee camps and related facilities; and places where mentally disordered or intellectually handicapped persons are detained; in order to ascertain the conditions under which persons are kept there, and to make recommendations regarding those conditions to the minister responsible for administering the law relating to those places.
The constitution clearly stipulates that “the commissioner-general of police must comply with any directive given to him or her by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission … The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission may require any person, institution or agency, whether belonging to or employed by the State or otherwise to inform the Commission of measures they have taken to give effect to the human rights and freedoms set out in the Declaration of Rights; and (b) to provide the Commission with information it needs to prepare any report required to be submitted to any regional or international body under any human rights convention, treaty or agreement to which Zimbabwe is a party.
“The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission may, through the appropriate minister, submit reports to parliament on particular matters relating to human rights and freedoms which, in the Commission’s opinion, should be brought to the attention of Parliament.”