New law seeks to bar state rights body from reporting poll violence

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By Nkosana Dlamini

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government have set themselves up for a potential clash with opponents through proposed electoral law amendments which seek to limit the influence of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) in poll related rights violations.

ZHRC is among the different Commissions set up under the country’s constitution in attempts to advance the interests of democracy in a country torn apart by years of poll related conflict.

The country’s supreme law grants the Commission powers to recommend, if possible, to ZEC to stop an election if there are human rights violations.

But in proposed amendments to the Electoral Act, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi has introduced provisions which seek to subordinate the functions of the rights authority to those of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

Under the proposed changes contained in the Electoral Amendment Bill, 2017, ZHRC agents will now be compelled to first register as poll observers and to further submit reports on electoral malpractices to ZEC before transmitting them to Parliament.

“Persons accredited as agents of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission under this section shall be entitled to do all things that accredited observers may do in terms of this Act,” reads Section 40J of the Bill in part.

“…Before issuing any report on an election or electoral process it has monitored in terms of this section, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission shall provide the Commission with a draft of the report and shall pay due regard to any comments the Commission may make on the draft.”

The new provisions have been described as an attempt to tame the country’s rights authority and to grant the often bungling ZEC powers to veto any poll based report it may deem unfavourable to it.

Speaking at an Election Resource Centre (ERC) organised meeting to review the Bill, MDC-T MP for Mutare Central Innocent Gonese, who is also a Member of Parliament’s legal committee, said the new clauses sought to take away the rights commission’s capacity to exercise oversight over ZEC by reducing it from being monitors to the less impactful role of observers which is usually performed by NGOs.

Equally, Zanu PF MP for Mazowe South Fortune Chasi was also scathing of his Zanu PF colleagues.

“The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission was created by constitution and required to be independent,” said Chasi, who chairs the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Committee.

“It is sacrosanct that it must be independent. So it cannot be subjugated to anyone let alone ZEC in the execution of its mandate as stipulated in the constitution.

“Elections are clearly a matter of human rights and fall within the purview of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission. So I have my doubts that the proposal does not flout the provisions of the constitution in so far as the independence of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission is concerned.

“If it is independent it must carry out its work independently and produce a report that goes to parliament as opposed to a report that is to be approved.

“And one would ask what is it that ZEC would be wanting to see or not wanting to see in a report. Even the minister himself does not have powers to approve a report by the human rights commission.”

The ruling Zanu PF party has often been singled out as the main violator of citizens’ rights during often violent poll periods.

Reports compiled by the Commission during the country’s by-elections have been damning of Zanu PF which is often accused of using scare tactics on opponents.