ZIMBABWE Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) bemoaned polarisation and intolerance of divergent political views bedevelling the country during a Press Conference to mark commemorations of the 2023 International Human Rights Day (IHRD).

The Commission joined Government of Zimbabwe and rest of the world in commemorating International Human Rights Day that is observed on the 10th of December each year.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The UDHR is a milestone document adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on 10th December 1948 being the first international agreement that outlines human rights standards to which everyone is entitled by virtue of being human.

UDHR was adopted soon after the world had experienced horrific human rights abuses during the Second World War (1939 – 1945) that included the extermination of over six (6) million Jews and other peoples such as gypsies, Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) by NAZI Germany.

The adoption of the UDHR therefore recognised human rights to be the foundation for freedom, justice and peace.

The UN General Assembly proclaimed the UDHR as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.

The UDHR includes 30 Articles whose provisions have been adopted in subsequent international and regional treaties as well as national constitutions including the Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.20) Act, 2013.

The UDHR declares that human rights are universal and are to be enjoyed by all people without discrimination on whatever basis or grounds. 

Some of the Civil and Political rights outlined in the UDHR are the right to dignity, the right to non-discrimination, the right to life, liberty and security of person, the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, the right to fair trial, right to nationality and various freedoms that include freedom of movement and residence and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

In addition, the UDHR provides for social and economic rights that include the right to employment, the right to an adequate standard of living that include food, clothing, housing, and medical care and the right to education. 

The theme for this year’s IHRD commemorations running since 2022 to mark the year long celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the UDHR is Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All.

Human rights values are the very essence of our shared humanity.

“The theme therefore reminds us that every person, regardless of their race, gender, religion, or social status, possesses inherent rights that must be respected, protected and fulfilled”, the Commission said.

The right of access to justice provided for under section 69 of the Constitution as part of the broader framework of the right to fair hearing or trial, recognises the courts as the custodians of the Constitution and guardians of remedies for the protection and enforcement of human rights.

Human rights values serve as a beacon of hope, a moral compass guiding us towards a more just and inclusive society characterised by shared values of dignity, freedom, fairness, respect, justice, equality and nondiscrimination, the rule of law and peace to mention but a few.

The Commission postulated that, “In this regard, commemorations of International Human Rights Day accord us an opportunity to reflect upon the progress we have made in promoting and protecting human rights and seize opportunities to learn as a country and acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead as we recommit ourselves to the pursuit of a world where every individual can live with dignity, freedom, justice and equality”. 

ZHRC commits itself to continue delivering on its mandate towards promotion and protection of all human rights in general.

In order to enhance human rights service delivery, the Commission has embarked on decentralisation of its offices in line with the Devolution Agenda of Government as provided for in the National Development Strategy (NDS 1) and Vision 2030.

Accordingly, the  Commission has to date established five provincial offices in Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Manicaland and Matabeleland North Provinces and is in the process of opening a sixth office in Mashonaland West and should have established offices in all provinces by the end of 2025.

Decentralisation is backed by phased recruitment of staff which has seen the staff compliment of the Commission increase from eighty three (83) to one hundred and thirty eight (138) and is expected to increase to two hundred and forty seven (247) by 2025.

The Commission has managed to operationalise the Administrative Justice department, as a separate entity from the human rights Complaints Handling and Investigations Department.

It has also operationalised some functions such as Knowledge Management, Advocacy and Research to enhance promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  

The Commission acknowledges continuous efforts by the Government of Zimbabwe as it makes positive strides towards promotion of human rights in the country.

One of the key factors to promote the right to dignity is education,and the Commission commends the government for maintaining high levels of investment in education, including adoption of policies that promote human rights, not only in the education sector but in other sectors such as the gender and disability sectors.

The amendment of the Education Act to prohibit corporal punishment in schools and to allow pregnant girls to continue learning in the school  system in accordance with the Zimbabwe Constitution, guarantees the right to education for everyone.

These achievements also extend to various social protection measures such as provision of food relief and agricultural inputs to support the most vulnerable groups in our society, efforts towards macro-economic stabilisation and various initiatives to move the country towards a middle income economy in fulfilment of the National Development Strategy (NDS 1) and Vision 2030. 

In spite of this progress, much still remains to be done to improve the human rights situation in the country and to ensure that a culture of human rights becomes ingrained in our society.

In particular, the Commission notes that polarisation and intolerance of divergent political views still persist in our country characterised by  incidents of violence as the country is holding by – elections a few months after the 23rd-24th of August 2023 general elections.

The government also needs to do more to curb impunity and corruption.

Alignment of some pieces of legislation impacting on human rights including the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Act to the Constitution remains outstanding.

The Commission regularly produces Monitoring and Inspections as well as Investigations Reports with recommendations for implementation, in most cases by different Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) including those meant to improve conditions in our institutions such as prisons, old peoples’ homes, children’s homes and institutions for persons with mental challenges to become more dignified but implementation of the recommendations lags behind.

“We therefore strongly urge responsible authorities to respect and act on the ZHRC recommendations”, said the Human Rights Commission.  

Economic, social and cultural rights of citizens instrumental in making people lead fulfilling and dignified lives continue to be negatively impacted by economic inflationary challenges, and inadequate service delivery particularly provision of electricity, water and sanitation which contribute to perennial outbreaks of communicable diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea.

Some harmful religious and traditional practices such as early childhood marriages through betrothals continue to violate the rights and entitlements of the most vulnerable groups that include children, women, minority groups and persons with disabilities.

Poverty among communities and households including in urban areas due to unemployment and limited economic opportunities is on the increase.

Despite Government efforts to deal with the crisis, drugs and substance abuse continue to be rampant and destroy the future of our young generations. 

The Commission calls on the Government of Zimbabwe as the primary duty bearer to work with all stakeholders in ensuring that outstanding pieces of legislation impacting on human rights including the ZHRC Act are aligned to the Constitution.

Macro-economic challenges facing communities and households in rural, peri-urban and urban communities also need to be urgently addressed to protect the livelihoods and socioeconomic rights of citizens.

The Commission calls on all political players and citizens alike to exercise political tolerance, show restraint and respect towards one another and act in accordance with the law when exercising their rights.

By the same token, the ZHRC calls on law enforcement agencies to investigate and facilitate prosecution of offenders who commit criminal violations of human rights in all their forms and degrees. 

Ladies and gentlemen, let me assure you that in fulfilment of its constitutional mandate to protect, promote and enforce human rights, the Commission will continue to discharge its functions diligently and without fear or favour in order to contribute towards a more just Zimbabwean society.

This is more so as we are committed to maintain the

Commission’s brand as an “A” Status National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) for Zimbabwe, recently re-accredited as such by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) in accordance with the Paris Principles relating to the status of National Human Rights Institutions.  

The Commission pledged to continue working with all duty bearers and stakeholders in Government, the private sector, civil society and indeed the media in promoting, consolidating, strengthening and sustaining a culture of human rights in our country characterised by the human rights values of dignity, freedom and justice for all.   

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