MDC policy captures democratic values

HARARE - As the country struggles to extricate itself from over 30 years of Zanu PF’s dictatorship which is associated with gross human rights violations, a critical analysis of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) policy on national healing is imperative.

It is important to critically evaluate political party policies in order to appreciate if what they offer to the citizens is different from one another especially in the area of human rights, democracy and good governance given the glaring deficits in the protection of fundamental civil and political liberties.

At the core of this policy is to champion the process of national healing, truth telling, rehabilitation of the victims and the perpetrators as well as advocate for adequate compensation for political victims acknowledging the wrongs perpetrated against the people and promote lasting peace.

The MDC says it recognises the importance of national peace and stability for sustainable development and is committed to facilitating and instituting a national healing, reconciliation and integration programme as a prerequisite for nation building and sustainable democracy and development.

The party argues that the trauma and wounds of human rights violations committed since Zimbabwe attained independence cannot be ignored.

In order to address these past human rights transgressions which includes the 1980s Gukurahundi massacres, MDC endorses the provisions of the new constitution that provides for the setting up of a National Peace and Reconciliation Commission which among other things seeks to ensure post-conflict justice, healing and reconciliation, develop and implement programmes to promote national healing, unity and cohesion in Zimbabwe and the peaceful resolution of disputes, bring about national reconciliation by encouraging people to tell the truth about the past and facilitating the making of amends and the provision of justice, develop procedures and institutions at a national level.

So as to facilitate dialogue among political parties, communities, organisations and other groups, in order to prevent conflicts and disputes arising in the future and develop programmes to ensure that persons subjected to persecution, torture and other forms of abuse receive rehabilitative treatment and support as well as recommending legislation to ensure that assistance, including documentation, is rendered to persons affected by conflicts, pandemics or other circumstances.

Zimbabwe has been engulfed in a vicious cycle of conflict, an increase in State authoritarianism, polarisation of communities and human rights violations.

The culture of violence, authoritarianism and conflict finds its roots in the country’s history which is defined by colonialism, customs and traditions, the liberation struggle and the post-colonial search for political hegemony by the ruling elite.

The struggle for democracy has been arrested by the continued fight for political hegemony by the ruling elite, itself creating further conflict and instigating violence amongst the people.

In both the pre and post colonial Zimbabwe, the political elite has resorted to State sponsored, sanctioned and orchestrated violence against the people thereby attracting international condemnation through restrictive measures.

The post-colonial State’s failure to address and ensure non-recurrence of violence has resulted in the perpetuation of a legacy of impunity where perpetrators of violence aligned to the ruling elite are guaranteed amnesty irrespective of the commission of crimes.

Through national financial and security institutions, the State has ensured the continuation of this cycle of violence and the deprivation of the peoples’ inalienable rights and freedoms.

What is critical about this policy if it were to be implemented is that it seeks to address the legacy of impunity, to ensure the non-recurrence of violations of human rights.

The  MDC through this policy argues that it will endeavour to build a just, tolerant and peaceful society.

The policy noted five distinct critical historical events as a result of both the pre and post-colonial State’s failure to uphold the rule of law and guarantee civil and political liberties were gross human rights violations were experienced without recourse to the justice systems.

These periods include, Gukurahundi campaign between 1983 and 1987 that left more than 20 000 people dead, violent farm invasions in year 2000 that resulted in the displacement of 400 000 farm-workers and displacement of 1,8 million members of farm worker families and the deaths of many farm-workers,farmers, State-sponsored violence during political campaigns in the 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2002 and 2005 national elections resulting in the death of hundreds of people mainly opposition supporters.

 Operation Murambatsvina in May, June and July 2005 that displaced more than 700 000 people, loss of livelihoods and destructionof property, brutal June 27, 2008 Presidential runoff campaign in which more than 200 people were killed, more than 2 000 rape cases, more than 10 000 injured, 20 000 homes were destroyed and more than 200 000 people were displaced.

What is important about this policy is that it seeks to combine elements of restorative and retributive justice to balance the delicate attainment of both reconciliation and justice.

However, on the balance of priorities, the policy put more emphasis on promoting national unity, integration, healing and reconciliation and reconstruction and prevention of  the recurrence of conflict in the future.

These policy priorities will be implemented by four committees; The Truth, Justice and Amnesty,Compensation and Healing Committees.

The MDC argues that it will encourage the committees to work in collaboration with civil society, churches, police, courts, other commissions and traditional leaders.

This will ensure that people affected at the grassroots level will effectively participate. Citizen participation will be crucial to lend legitimacy to the national healing, reconciliation and integration programme.

Lack of funding for peace programmes can be a hindrance in post-conflict societies. The party says in the event that it wins the coming election, itsgovernment will provide direct financial, political will, legal and other forms of support to the Commission.

Given competing needs in a reconstruction era, the MDC will fundraise from bilateral and multilateral sources, it argues while looking for assistance from other governments with similar experiences to provide policy advice, technical support and expertise without compromising the nature and ownership of the national healing programme.

Having outlined this policy, my view is that any Truth Commission in Zimbabwe should make recommendations for reparations to be given to the victims of State organised murders, violence and abuses which must take the form of cash payments, pensions, free education, free access to health care and psychiatric treatment, or public memorials and national remembrance days.

 But beyond that, efforts should be made to seek compensation from the perpetrators such as senior government, ruling party and security forces rather than relying on the government alone.

Even if amnesty could be exercised, like in the case of South Africa, it should not be unconditional.

In order to foster a democratic society, no person should be given amnesty unless he or she applies for it, makes a full disclosure of the crimes, and establishes that the crimes were committed with a political objective.

In this regard, wrongdoers and hardliners within the political establishment in Zimbabwe who fail to follow this course should be prosecuted.

My views are not without merit because international humanitarian law demands that people responsible for gross violation of human rights should be held accountable for their crimes.

For this reason the granting of unconditional, blanket amnesty would be unacceptable and should be avoided in Zimbabwe.

It is my contention that for amnesty to be legally valid in any given post-conflict society it must be adopted by democratic bodies in the case of Zimbabwe; Parliament should be allowed to exercise that role.

Self established amnesty without democratic legal authority  would not be valid.

This is so because Zimbabwe has seen numerous amnesties by the present government which have benefited the perpetrators of violence rather than the victims.

Some of the people that have benefited from Mugabe’s self-styled amnesties since independence should be behind bars.  

Worse still, the beneficiaries of Mugabe’s amnesties continue to abuse human rights without any recourse to the justice system by the victims.

It is my view that if Zimbabwe is to return to democratic legitimacy, the government should respond to human rights violations by adopting laws which bar certain categories of former government officials and party members from public employment.

Such measures will not be new to Zimbabwe; they have worked well in post-communist governments in Europe and Latin America.

 It is argued that a successful transition to democracy demands the removal from public institutions of individuals who may have taken part in violating human rights.

Such elements are rampant in the country’s public service particularly the security forces. Human rights trials should be given a chance so that we see whether the deterrence theory can work in stopping human rights violations in future. - Pedzisai Ruhanya

*Ruhanya is director of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.

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