ZIMBABWE should establish a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with post-independence atrocities in Matabelaland and the Midlands as well as alleged abuses in successive elections, UN rights chief Navi Pillay has said.
Pillay, who was speaking at the end of her five-day visit to Zimbabwe on Friday, said she was concerned that the country’s Human Rights Commission established in 2010 had remained dysfunctional over disputes regarding its remit.
The commission’s enabling Bill is stuck in Parliament because parties cannot agree whether the body should investigate events prior to its establishment.
The MDC formations want the commission to probe rights abuses during the June 2008 presidential election run-off as well as the Matabeleland and Midlands massacres, while Zanu PF officials say if the commission should look that far back then it must also investigate pre-Independence abuses by Ian Smith’s minority regime.
Pillay said the Commission should not be involved in historical investigations.
“My strong advice to the political leaders and parliamentarians has been that – like most other Human Rights Commissions around the world – it should not become involved in historical investigations,” she said.
“Debate on this issue must not be allowed to continue to hold up this vital body, whose members have been existing in a sort of operational limbo for more than two years now.
“Instead, it should deal with the many pressing issues that face Zimbabwe today and in the future, and in particular all the human rights issues surrounding the forthcoming elections.”
She insisted, however, that this did not mean that abuses allegedly committed in the past should be ignored. These could be dealt with through a separate mechanism, she said during a lecture at the University of Zimbabwe.
“I stress that this does not mean that past human rights violations such as the devastating large-scale killings and other violations in Matabeleland and Midlands in the 1980s, or the 2008 election violence, should be swept under the carpet. Far from it,” she said.
“There should never be impunity for serious crimes, and justice is essential if peace and stability are to endure. (But) this would be too great a task for the Human Rights Commission, whose prime role is to deal with current and future human rights situations.
“Instead, I have urged all parties to consider setting up another body or bodies – such as a Truth and Reconciliation Committee or a Commission of Inquiry – to look at major human rights violations that took place some time ago.”