Show appetite for respect of rights

HARARE - ZimRights, once a target of state-sponsored harassment, this week expressed hope that newly-appointed Prosecutor General (PG) Johannes Tomana will get the support he needs to carry out his duties without fear or favour.

Executive director Okay Machisa spoke about this and other niggling issues that should be in government’s purview but appear fading from its radar.

Below are the excerpts of the interview with Senior Assistant Editor Guthrie Munyuki.

Q: As Zimbabwe Civic Society what is your position on sanctions because recently you, as a movement, censured an officer for advocating for their removal?

A: One important clarity that I want to make is that I do not speak on behalf of the whole civil society.

I speak on behalf of ZimRights and I will be very comfortable to relate the issues from that angle.

The issue of sanctions is better in the hands of political parties.

Why do we have to hide behind sanctions when we have our own mismanagement crisis of the resources that we have.

Is it sanctions that are causing the few individuals to amass wealth and loot resources?

Where are the diamonds going if ever we still have them? What benefit has they brought to the nation that we may celebrate?

We have human welfare under threat with demolitions of structures where the poor find some refuge.

This is rain season and someone does not care where these people shall live.

Is that sanctions? Let us be serious and consider people first.

Q: What are your key priorities now that elections are over and there is a new government?

A: As ZimRights our key priorities have never changed.

We have always fought for the promotion of human rights, defending human rights and protecting human rights.

The new constitution has a bill of rights which is quite clear and need the people of Zimbabwe to comprehend it in total.

We have no doubt that the government prioritises our mandate and shall continue to constructively engage all state institutions and government to ensure that the rights of the people of Zimbabwe are upheld.

Q: Food aid agencies estimate that about 2, 2 million need food, as Crisis Coalition chairperson how can you mitigate this dire situation?

A: Crisis Coalition’s mandate is not to provide food aid, but rather acts as a watch dog to the state and other non-state actors that violate the rights of others.

Thus, Crisis Coalition will always condemn the inefficiencies and unjust acts no matter who has committed them.

The coalition will continue to demand the government to be accountable to its people and ensure that no-one starves.

We will continue to demand the government to have no strings attached when food aid is being distributed.

Q: How do you intend to make sure that those who need aid are duly given relief without political victimisation?

A: Where we have proof of this political victimisation we simply expose those that are doing so without fear or favour.

That is our job to name and shame those found doing such barbaric and inhuman behaviour.

Q: Zimbabwe has a Prosecutor General (PG) and what are your expectations in the short to medium term?

A: We congratulate the PG on his appointment and request that such a position would need all Zimbabweans to be treated the same regardless of colour, tribe or political affiliation.

Those found at wrong side of the law should just be prosecuted without selective application of rule of law.

There are current community known issues awaiting prosecution and we hope the PG shall urgently look into those matters.

Q: What role can you play in educating the public about the roles of the Attorney General and the PG in view of the new Constitution which many people appear not to know?

A: Our role is to unpack any public information and make it as simple as possible to be comprehended by Zimbabweans in their different constitutionally-recognised languages.

ZimRights will unpack the role of the PG and simplify it and then package the information and carry out civic education around the role of the PG and how it is enshrined in our constitution.

Q: What is your view on the inertia which has stalled progress on the much-awaited operationalilisation of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission?

A: I think the state should take an active role and show political will to operationalise the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission or at least leave those who are able to fully fund the commission without necessarily compromising its independence to do so.

One cannot expect the ZHRC to operate without funds. It is the role of the government to fuel the commission so that it operates.

Actually I want to applaud the non-funded commission for the great work it has done so far since the enabling Act was put in place.

Q: Where are we in terms of appointing a new commissioner?

A: I think you want to ask about the new chairperson who has not been appointed yet.

What I can say is that the rest of commissioners are there and while we wait for the chair to be appointed the government should urgently fund the commission so that it starts work.

The work does not start and end with the commission’s chair. In fact the chair is one among nine.

Q: What can we expect from the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and will it ever function given the current financial problems plaguing the new government?

A: It is common cause that the Government of Zimbabwe has no money and as long as the Commission continues to receive 70 percent of its funding from the Government, nothing can be expected in the end.

Its mandate is grossly limited by inadequate resources.

I am quite hopeful that once the secretariat is in place the commission can do a lot of fundraising which can enable it to at least go beyond 50 percent of its work.

Q: What is your summation of the role played by the Organ on National Healing and Reconciliation?

A: Its work largely revolved around consultations with the churches, CSOs and chiefs in the country’s provinces to collect information on perceptions on national healing and reconciliation.

I have no doubt that the process created some sanity in the communities and I also believe that some of the information collected will be used in the establishment of National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC).

Q: Did it fulfil its mandate?

A: Partially. It however, failed to influence political parties to control eruption of political violence.

This is due to the fact that the communities that were largely affected in 2008 have not gone through a process of reconciliation and continue to harbour feelings of hate and the government has not done any official investigation on the allegations.

Q: Now that the inclusive government which created it is gone, what role can the Organ play going forward?

A: In my view the organ is still relevant if there is political will to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe move towards tolerance, unity and respect of human rights.

Once the NPRC act is in place then there is need to reconcile and synchronise the two into one.

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