- Last Updated on 20 July 2012
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'No-one ever planned the death of anybody... utterances like President Mugabe committed heinous atrocities are reckless.'
- Patrick Chinamasa 2012
Patrick Chinamasa, Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs said there is "no crisis" in Zimbabwe and no-one is responsible for any human rights atrocities that have taken place in Zimbabwe. Chinamasa said this at a public meeting held by Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition yesterday the 18th of July 2012 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
The topic of the meeting was: 13th February 2009 €¦... Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill 'cut-off date'. A classic case of politically sponsored historical amnesia or a practical arrangement for a working Human Rights Commission? €
Other speakers at the meeting were namely Ms. Irene Petras from ZLHR, Mr. Okay Machisa from ZIMRIGHTS, Hon. P. Chinamasa Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Hon D. Mwonzora, Chairperson Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and legal affairs, Dr. Ibbo Mandaza from Sapes Trust, Mr. Qhubani Moyo MDC Director of Policy, research and coordination. Also present at the meeting were survivors of human rights violations in Zimbabwe who had a special interest in the subject of the meeting.
The public meeting was a follow up on the progress relating to the operationalisation of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) which was recently passed by The House of Assembly and is currently under consideration in the Senate. Of major concern is the fact that the Bill prevents Human Rights Commissioners from investigating cases of rights abuses committed before the 13th February 2009. This ultimately means the commission does not have the power to investigate any of the political violence in 2008, or before.
The participants also interrogated why specifically February 2009 has been used as a basis for future investigations. The meeting also sort to get answers on the following questions: What then is the fate of victims of past violations? And what mechanisms can be put in place to deal with concerns being raised in a way that does not smack of a political cover up and amnesia on past violations? In response to these questions Hon Chinamasa, Hon Mwonzora and Mr Moyo agreed that the sole reason is that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be set up to deal with all human rights violations committed prior to the swearing in of the Human Right Commission on the 13th of February 2009.
Minister Chinamasa told the meeting that all the parties to the GPA had been approved the cut off date after the contentious issues contained in the Bill were finally resolved through the involvement of negotiators to the GPA. Hon Chinamasa was asked why the human rights commission was put in place before the bill, and why the process has take so long to operationalise. In his response he highlighted that the passage of the Bill through the committee stage was delayed due to opposition from MDC-T legislators who reneged to initial commitments they had made to passing the as they felt it didn't address the contentious issues of killings, torture, and politically motivated violence preceding the 2008 presidential run-off election.
Hon Mwonzora cleared the air that by noting that the delay was attributed the failure by Min Chinamasa to acknowledge the views of the people of the Zimbabwe who up to now do not conform to the set cut off date. He however acknowledged the fact that even if politicians agree on certain issues, that does not take away the right of Zimbabweans to demand 'a law that is just.'
Irene Petras also said that it is important that we celebrate in some form the establishment of the Commission and Civil society needs to be part of the pressure that ensures the commission delivers up to the expectations of the people of Zimbabwe. She further highlighted that for now Zimbabweans need to test the Bill and assess whether it abides by International Standards of putting in place HRCs like the Paris Principles.
In reaction to allegations that the Commission grants Minister Chinamasa too many powers, Chanamasa argued that he has no powers within the Commission except for reviewing reports submitted by the commission.
Mr Qhubani Moyo asked to have his take on the contention that the HRC Bill is yet another negotiated settlement between political parties, said that the MDC as a party applied its minds in agreeing with the cut off date and noted that the outcomes of the cut off date are in the best of national interest. He reiterated that there are several documents of evidence proving that President Mugabe is guilty of the 1980s' atrocities and surely 'One cannot have a seven year old moment of madness killing more than 20000 people.' He noted that it is important however for Zimbabweans to focus on the current and future and park the past which will be dealt with by the Truth and Reconciliation Organ.
Mr Machisa highlighted that ZIMRIGHTS has been directly dealing with survivors of human rights violations want to see justice to prevail in Zimbabwe. He made reference to Zanu PF's constant allusions to the past citing how the party liberated Zimbabwe from colonial bondage. Given such there is nothing wrong with victims of violence constantly referring to the need for perpetrators of past human violations to be brought to book. At this juncture he highlighted that the commission is for the people and must be close to the people as much as possible in terms of equity in access.
As closing note Hon Mwonzora said,
'As MDC-T we are calling for the arrest of all perpetrators of violent atrocities...The police force is partisan, impotent and cannot deal with all the human rights atrocities atrocities at hand. We need to commend Minister Chinamasa for bringing the HR commission bill which should see perpetrators of violence being arrested.
Dr Mandaza's reinforced that his hope that the government will look into the human rights violations reports compiled by civil society organisations so that justice may take its course. He further noted that in as much as the Human Rights Bill has its shortfalls, the independence of the commission largely depends on the commissioners, and if the representation within the commission is mainly from political parties as has been in the past then its independence will be compromised. He lastly said for the commission to be more effective, investigations must be carried out with substantial research.
Hon Chinamasa ended his presentation by emphasising that political parties must stop digging the past and instead focus on the future by preventing further human rights violations.