Human Rights Commission sparks furore with criticism of police
THE Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission should stop being an armchair critic and have an appreciation of the situation on the ground before rushing to make conclusions, political analysts and legal experts said yesterday.
This comes after the human rights body yesterday published a statement—via the private media— condemning the police for thwarting violent protests being propelled by the MDC-T and its cronies.
Observers said by issuing a partisan statement, the Commission was acting in a partial manner and pushing the interests of opposition political parties.
This, analysts said, was in violation of Section 236 of the Constitution which demands that independent commissions should not “act in a partisan manner, further the interests of any political party or cause/ violate the fundamental rights or freedoms of any person.”
The violent demonstrations have seen property worth thousands of dollars being destroyed and burnt, shops looted, cars stoned and innocent people attacked.
The police have not been spared with officers on duty being attacked and having their cars deflated and burnt.
Despite being provoked, the law enforcement agents managed to maintain law and order.
Scores of hooligans, mostly from the MDC-T and Dr Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First, were arrested.
Most of them were arrested last Friday after opposition parties’ goons under the banner National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) unleashed an orgy of violence under the guise of a peaceful demonstration for ‘electoral reforms’.
Surprisingly, in its statement, ZHRC shifted the blame on the police.
“It is noted with great concern that police did violate the fundamental rights of the people as evidenced by facts gathered on the ground,” the constitutional body said.
“The ZHRC is, therefore, extremely concerned about the recent violent conduct of the ZRP. The ZHRC has received complaints on allegations of police brutality and our on-going investigations have revealed unbecoming and violent conduct on the part of the police.”
Analysts said the statement showed that the Commission was ‘off the mark’ and completely divorced from the situation on the ground.
“The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission should conduct its business in an open and transparent manner, inviting submissions and collecting evidence in a translucent manner,” said Harare lawyer Mr Terrence Hussein.
“It should not use the short-cuts of reading newspaper reports and then issue statements. What people want is thorough investigations so that the outcomes and reports are credible and assist in the upholding of human rights.”
A legal expert who preferred anonymity said it was clear investigations were not done.
“We are talking about events on Wednesday and Friday,” said the lawyer.
“Saturday was not a working day and then on Sunday a statement is released by a commission which purports to have gathered facts, which, in its statement also uses the term ‘ongoing’ investigations and more importantly, ends up inviting injured parties to approach it and make submissions. Essentially, there were no investigations done by virtue of time and wording of the statement. If you look at Section 59 of the Constitution, it stipulates that one has a right to demonstrate peacefully, on section 219, the same Constitution gives certain duties to the police to protect lives and property and after looking at the general objectives of the Commissions and their specific provisions all that tells you how important it is to investigate thoroughly. You cannot investigate thoroughly only for two working days, one of which was affected by further demonstrations.”
Added the legal expert: “They are not supposed to act in a partisan manner that rushes to conclude favoured parties involved in the demonstrations. They have called into question their non-partisan approach.
“Whether knowingly or unknowingly, they have furthered the interests of political parties.”
The expert said freedoms and rights of citizens should be protected at all levels.
“Has the Commission sought to ensure respect for human rights at all levels of society or they are being selective? How does a commission, which is required to investigate, proceed to invite submissions after a judgement? It amounts to putting the cart before the horse.”
ZHRC said: “The ZHRC is also concerned by the indiscriminate teargassing of centres occupied by people some of whom may not be involved in the demonstration.
“This should stop and we call for due diligence and care to ensure that the rights and freedoms of innocent citizens are respected and protected.” Mr Elasto Mugwadi chairs the human rights body. Political analyst Mr Goodwine Mureriwa defended the police saying they were responding to the obtaining situation.
“Zimbabwe is a constitutional democracy and no constitution will give an individual or an individual group rights that overrides the collective interests of the people,” he said.
“If the opposition want rule of law, it has to be rule of law for the people. Police cannot watch violation of human rights and people hiding under a finger yet they have nefarious intentions to overthrow a constitutionally-elected Government.”
The ZHRC, established in terms of 242 of the Constitution, has the mandate to promote, protect and enforce human rights, including the right to administrative justice.
Being an independent commission, ZHRC should as provided for by Section 233 of the Constitution protect the sovereignty and interests of the people, promote constitutionalism and ensure that injustices are remedied.
A police water cannon disperses protestors in Harare on Friday