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The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) joined the Government of Zimbabwe and the rest of the world in commemorating International Human Rights Day which is observed on the 10th of December each year. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on 10th December 1948 being the first international agreement that outlines human rights standards to which everyone is entitled by virtue of being human.
In a speech he delivered today, the Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, Dr. Elasto Hilarious Mugwadi at the press conference to mark commemorations of the 2023 International Human Rights Day today said the UDHR was adopted soon after the world had experienced horrific human rights abuses during the Second World War (1939 – 1945) that included the extermination of over six (6) million Jews and other peoples such as gypsies, Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) by NAZI Germany.
“The adoption of the UDHR, therefore, recognised human rights to be the foundation for freedom, justice, and peace. The UN General Assembly proclaimed the UDHR as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”. The UDHR includes 30 Articles whose provisions have been adopted in subsequent international and regional treaties as well as national constitutions including the Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.20) Act, 2013. The UDHR declares that human rights are universal and are to be enjoyed by all people without discrimination on whatever basis or grounds.
“Some of the Civil and Political rights outlined in the UDHR are the right to dignity, the right to non-discrimination, the right to life, liberty, and security of person, the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, the right to fair trial, right to nationality and various freedoms that include freedom of movement and residence and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. In addition, the UDHR provides for social and economic rights that include the right to employment, the right to an adequate standard of living that includes food, clothing, housing, and medical care, and the right to education,” Dr. Mugwadi said.
The theme for this year’s IHRD commemorations has been running since 2022 to mark the year-long celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the UDHR is Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All. Human rights values are the very essence of our shared humanity. The theme therefore reminds stakeholders that every person, regardless of their race, gender, religion, or social status, possesses inherent rights that must be respected, protected, and fulfilled.
The right of access to justice provided for under section 69 of the Constitution as part of the broader framework of the right to fair hearing or trial, recognises the courts as the custodians of the Constitution and guardians of remedies for the protection and enforcement of human rights. Human rights values serve as a beacon of hope, a moral compass guiding us towards a more just and inclusive society characterised by shared values of dignity, freedom, fairness, respect, justice, equality, and non- discrimination, the rule of law and peace to mention but a few.
Dr. Mugwadi said commemorations of International Human Rights Day accord us an opportunity to reflect upon the progress made in promoting and protecting human rights seize opportunities to learn as a country and acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead in recommitting to the pursuit of a world where every individual can live with dignity, freedom, justice and equality.
ZHRC said it commits itself to continue delivering on its mandate towards the promotion and protection of all human rights in general. To enhance human rights service delivery, the Commission has embarked on decentralization of its offices in line with the Devolution Agenda of Government as provided for in the National Development Strategy (NDS1) and Vision 2030.
Accordingly, the Commission has to date established five provincial offices in Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Manicaland, and Matabeleland North Provinces and is in the process of opening a sixth office in Mashonaland West and should have established offices in all provinces by the end of 2025. Decentralisation is backed by phased recruitment of staff which has seen the staff complement of the Commission increase from eighty-three (83) to one hundred and thirty-eight (138) and is expected to increase to two hundred and forty-seven (247) by 2025.
The Commission has managed to operationalise the Administrative Justice Department, as a separate entity from the Human Rights Complaints Handling and Investigations Department. It has also operationalised some functions such as Knowledge Management, Advocacy, and Research to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Commission acknowledges continuous efforts by the Government of Zimbabwe as it makes positive strides towards the promotion of human rights in the country. One of the key factors in promoting the right to dignity is education, and the Commission commends the government for maintaining high levels of investment in education, including the adoption of policies that promote human rights, not only in the education sector but in other sectors such as the gender and disability sectors. The amendment of the Education Act to prohibit corporal punishment in schools and to allow pregnant girls to continue learning in the school system in accordance with the Zimbabwe Constitution, guarantees the right to education for everyone.
These achievements also extend to various social protection measures such as the provision of food relief and agricultural inputs to support the most vulnerable groups in our society, efforts towards macro-economic stabilisation, and various initiatives to move the country towards a middle-income economy in fulfillment of the National Development Strategy (NDS 1) and Vision 2030.
In spite of this progress, much remains to be done to improve the human rights situation in the country and to ensure that a culture of human rights becomes ingrained in our society.
In particular, the Commission notes that polarisation and intolerance of divergent political views still persist in our country characterised by incidents of violence as the country is holding by-elections a few months after the 23rd-24th of August 2023 general elections.
“The government also needs to do more to curb impunity and corruption. The alignment of some pieces of legislation impacting human rights including the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Act to the Constitution remains outstanding. The Commission regularly produces Monitoring and Inspections as well as Investigations Reports with recommendations for implementation, in most cases by different Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) including those meant to improve conditions in our institutions such as prisons, old peoples’ homes, children’s homes and institutions for persons with mental challenges to become more dignified but the implementation of the recommendations lags behind. We therefore strongly urge responsible authorities to respect and act on the ZHRC recommendations.
“Economic, social and cultural rights of citizens instrumental in making people lead fulfilling and dignified lives continue to be negatively impacted by economic inflationary challenges, and inadequate service delivery, particularly provision of electricity, water and sanitation which contribute to perennial outbreaks of communicable diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and diarrhoea. Some harmful religious and traditional practices such as early childhood marriages through betrothals continue to violate the rights and entitlements of the most vulnerable groups including children, women, minority groups, and persons with disabilities. Poverty among communities and households including in urban areas due to unemployment and limited economic opportunities is on the increase. Despite Government efforts to deal with the crisis, drugs, and substance abuse continue to be rampant and destroy the future of our young generations.”
The Commission calls on the Government of Zimbabwe as the primary duty bearer to work with all stakeholders in ensuring that outstanding pieces of legislation impacting on human rights including the ZHRC Act are aligned with the Constitution. Macroeconomic challenges facing communities and households in rural, peri-urban, and urban communities also need to be urgently addressed to protect the livelihoods and socio- economic rights of citizens. The Commission calls on all political players and citizens alike to exercise political tolerance, show restraint and respect towards one another, and act in accordance with the law when exercising their rights. By the same token, the ZHRC calls on law enforcement agencies to investigate and facilitate the prosecution of offenders who commit criminal violations of human rights in all their forms and degrees.
In fulfillment of its constitutional mandate to protect, promote, and enforce human rights, the Commission will continue to discharge its functions diligently and without fear or favour in order to contribute towards a more just Zimbabwean society.
“This is more so as we are committed to maintaining the Commission’s brand as an “A” Status National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) for Zimbabwe, recently re-accredited as such by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) in accordance with the Paris Principles relating to the status of National Human Rights Institutions.
“Finally ladies and gentlemen, your Commission will continue to work with all duty bearers and stakeholders in Government, the private sector, civil society, and indeed the media in promoting, consolidating, strengthening, and sustaining a culture of human rights in our country characterized by the human rights values of dignity, freedom and justice for all, Commissioner Mugwadi added.