Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Zim to probe rights abuses

Tuesday 14 September 2010

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s unity government has agreed to probe human rights abuses committed after December 2008, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said on Monday, effectively ruling out investigating gross abuses committed since independence or before.

Chinamasa said the government would soon table in Parliament a Bill that will empower the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to probe human rights abuses committed after enactment of Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Number 19.

The amendment that paved the way for the creation of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s coalition government last year was enacted in December 2008

Chinamasa said: “This commission will not investigate the alleged violations which occurred before the enactment of the amendment number 19 unless the violations have continued after the enactment but anything that happened before they will not have power to investigate."

The Justice Minister said the commission will investigate “ everybody, every individual, corporates and institutions no one is going to be above scrutiny.”

Chinamasa said the commission will visit and inspect prisons, places of detention, refugee camps and related facilities “to ascertain the conditions under which inmates are kept there, and to make recommendations regarding those conditions to the minister responsible for administering the law.”

But it is the coalition Cabinet’s decision not to probe rights violations prior to December 2008 that will infuriate many Zimbabweans including many of Tsvangirai’s supporters in his MDC party and in civil society.

MDC members, including Tsvangirai himself, have borne the brunt of organised political violence from security forces and Mugabe’s supporters since 2000 with several hundreds killed while many more have been uprooted from their homes by war veterans and youth militia loyal to the veteran leader.

But the violence climaxed in the run-up to a presidential run-off election in June 2008 when Mugabe sought to reverse his first ever electoral defeat by Tsvangirai in the first round of the poll.

Known senior security officers led ZANU-PF loyalists on a campaign that left 200 opposition supporters dead and even shocked other neutral African leaders.

And while human rights groups and Western governments began focusing serious attention on rights abuses by Mugabe only in the last 10 years after he began seizing white-owned farms, the Zimbabwean leader is accused of trampling upon the rights of opponents with his Gukurahundi military campaign launched barely three years after taking over power at independence from Britain in 1980.

Gukurahundi was launched ostensibly to crackdown on armed dissidents in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces dominated by the Ndebeles who were the main backers of the then opposition PF-ZAPU party.

Analysts say the real purpose of the onslaught by the army’s North Korean-trained 5th Brigade was to demolish PF-ZAPU’s support base.

At least 20 000 innocent civilians were reportedly killed, some of them by having their stomachs prised open by soldiers while others were rounded up into huts and set on fire.

A government commission probed the atrocities but the results of the probe have never been made public.

Zimbabwe’s rights commission was sworn into office last year and is chaired by Reginald Austin, a law professor and former head of the legal affairs division of the Commonwealth.

The commission consists of the chairperson and eight other commissioners, but the constitution is silent on the position of the deputy.

The Bill seeks to provide for the position of deputy chairperson which shall be occupied by a person of the opposite sex to the chairperson, Chinamasa said.

The rights commission is part of several commissions formed by Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government as part of a raft of reforms meant to reshape and democratise the country’s politics.

The other commissions include the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. – ZimOnline.


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