ZIMBABWE Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) chief Reginald Austin resigned his position Friday citing the commission’s lack of independence, among several other reasons.
In his resignation letter, Austin also accused government of abandoning the rights body without a proper legal framework and adequate resources.
“The critical reason for my resignation is the legal framework, in particular Section 12 of the ZHRC Act, and Part XVIIIB of the Electoral Act, within which the ZHRC is expected, now and in the future, to carry out its mandate to ‘promote and protect human rights’ in Zimbabwe.
“As a National Human Rights Institution, the Commission must be independent and properly capacitated to comply with the international standards set by the Paris Principles for its credibility and recognition to participate as a peer in the international human rights community,” Austin said.
“An immediate legal problem was that Constitutional Amendment 19, creating the Commission, failed to provide for its independence.”
The rights panel was formed in 2009, but it only gained constitutional status this year when President Robert Mugabe signed a bill spelling its scope of operation after almost three years of haggling between Zanu PF and the MDC.
But the bill’s passage was mired in controversy as activists protested a clause that precludes the commission from investigating human rights breaches that occurred before the bloody 2008 run-off vote.
Hundreds of MDC supporters were killed by alleged Zanu PF functionaries.
Activists, especially from Matabeleland, were particularly enraged by the fact that the panel will not be able to investigate the killing of more than 20, 000 people by Mugabe’s North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade during the Gukurahundi epoch.
The body can only probe violations that happened after its members took the oath of office in February 2009.
Austin, a law professor, said the commission was barely equipped to carry out its duties, adding that government had virtually left them in the lurch with “no budget, no accommodation, no mobility, no staff and no implementing act or corporate legal status.”