Human rights are inalienable

HARARE – The week, Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating Human Rights Day at an opportune time for the nation.

The day is observed on the 10th of this month, being the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This year, the day kicks off a year-long campaign to mark the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights, which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being — regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has the unique opportunity to shame his critics by defining himself as a leader who respects human rights, not just in word but in deed.

While he did not say anything on this emotive matter in his inaugural speech, by pledging to uphold the Constitution, Mnangagwa has committed himself to observing human rights since these are also protected by the law.

Zimbabwe has had a terrible human rights record that has earned it a pariah status. Mnangagwa’s predecessor was notorious for his oppressive methods and abhorrence for dissent. Under his rule, freedoms were severely curtailed.

Robert Mugabe’s government had no respect for democratic reforms. Even after agreeing to a new Constitution in 2013 that allowed for these, his regime simply refused to harmonise the various laws to the new charter.

Anything that was seen threatening his hold on power was ruthlessly crushed. In his party, he would only uphold the Constitution to the extent it enabled him to achieve his power-retention agenda.

According to human rights activists, Zimbabwe has a long and reprehensible history of gross human rights violations abetted by a political culture of impunity.

“The use of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment appears as a central element of State agents’ treatment of citizens perceived as being in opposition to the ruling Zanu PF party and those attempting to exercise their fundamental freedoms, that is the freedom to demonstrate and petition, freedom of association, assembly and expression,” opined the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

A lot has been said about Mnangagwa in the past.

He has been accused of being the chief architect behind the Gukurahundi massacres that resulted in the deaths of more than 20 000 people. Others say he was behind the violence that killed more than 200 MDC supporters and officials in the run-up to the 2008 presidential run-off. These are damning allegations.

Mnangagwa should take advantage of his ascendancy to prove his critics wrong and salvage his legacy.