The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission told parliament Wednesday it is concerned by the widespread human rights violations nationwide saying most worrying is the disappearance of pro-democracy activist Itai Dzamara in March this year.
Commission chairperson, Elasto Mugwadi told the Senate thematic human rights committee, it was worrying that a person can disappear in a highly-security sensitive country like Zimbabwe.
"I have received petitions from the international community which now run into thousands and I have stopped opening my email because I need almost two months if not more to go through them. I am no longer responding but the international community feels government by setting up a human rights commission were genuinely saying they would want to ensure that people’s rights are protected," he said.
Mugwadi said Dzamara’s disappearance has put pressure on the commission with the local and international community demanding answers.
Mugwadi noted that there is need for government to step up security of citizens and to comply with a court order which requires the police to furnish the court with results of its investigations fortnightly about Dzamara’s disappearance.
Harare-based human rights defender, Dunmore Tshuma, who worked with Dzamara, commended the commission for raising the Dzamara issue with parliament.
“The Human Rights Commission and the government must really act on this issue because it is really a serious security issue and failure to act will be a threat to the security of the nation and it will taint seriously the human rights reputation of the country,” he said.
In a two and half hour testimony Mugwadi said human rights violations were rampant in the Zimbabwe Prisons Service where there was overcrowding, inadequate food, poor sanitation and health facilities and services.
He said politicians, among them parliamentarians, councilors and traditional chiefs, were among the worst human rights violators, adding that investigations in the June 10 parliamentary by-elections in Hurungwe West confirmed this.
He said investigations by the commission revealed serious human rights violations in areas like Chigwizi and Tsholotsho following floods in these areas.
He appealed to the government to provide funding to the commission so that it can promote, protect and monitor human rights violations in the country.
Also worrying, Mugwadi said, was ignorance by many Zimbabweans that their rights were enshrined in the constitution.
This, he said, is contained in the findings of a baselines survey the commission conducted which shows that 68 percent of the respondents were not aware that their rights are protected by the country’s supreme law.
He said the majority of people had also not seen a copy of the constitution, noting that there was need for government and the commission to go on a massive awareness campaign to highlight the provisions of the constitution and the work of the commission.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights projects officer, Maureen Shonge, said there was also need to finance and capacitate the commission so that it can discharge its mandate effectively.
She said the presentation to parliament clearly showed the commission is aware of the human rights violations in the country.