Concern over plot to muzzle ZHRC

HARARE – Elections lobby groups have raised concern over the Electoral Amendment Bill which appears to muzzle the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) ahead of make-or-break elections to be held this year.

The minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Ziyambi Ziyambi, has proposed to reduce the ZHRC through the amendments to mere poll observers whose report would have to go through the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) before it becomes final.

Zec — the body mandated with running elections in the country — reports through the Justice minister.

According to the Elections Resource Centre (ERC), an elections watchdog, the amendments will whittle down the ZHRC’s powers.

“The ERC is worried by the insertion of a provision, which seeks to strip the monitoring powers of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission reducing the body to a mere observing  role, yet, their role is to monitor human rights.

“Furthermore, the proposal subordinates the ZHRC to the electoral commission, the Zec thereby creating a potential violation of the independence of the Human Rights Commission,” ERC said in a statement.

Another parliamentary watchdog, Veritas, said plans to reduce ZHRC’s powers and remove its “special investigations” privileges could be unconstitutional.

“ZHRC has consistently objected to this obvious inconsistency with its own constitutional independence; it has an entirely separate programme for monitoring the elections,” said Veritas.

According to the proposed amendments, the ZHRC can now only observe the elections. Its poll report would be submitted through Zec.

“Before issuing any report on an election or electoral process it has observed in terms of this section, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission shall provide the commission (Zec) with a draft of the report and shall pay due regard to any comments the commission may make on the draft,” the amendments read in part.

The ZHRC, whose mandate is to promote, protect and enforce human rights in Zimbabwe, crafted a damning dossier in 2015 which exposed electoral violations that were committed ahead of the June 10, Hurungwe West by-election.

After independent legislator Temba Mliswa lost the Hurungwe West by-election in controversial circumstances, he not only approached the Electoral Court for recourse but also the ZHRC which then recommended that the police and Zec investigate the poll irregularities.

Under Section 4 of the proposed amendment, “the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, through any of its commissioners or employees accredited under this section, may observe any election and electoral process in order to ensure respect for the human rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution”.

The ZHRC, as part of the amendments, will provide, “names and identification particulars of its commissioners or employees whom it wishes to be accredited as observers (to Zec); and...the election or electoral process which it wishes to observe.”

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