Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion sparks furore with crit­i­cism of po­lice

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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

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