HARARE – Civil society and human rights organisations in Zimbabwe present at the 34th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHC)’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process in Geneva, Switzerland this month have welcomed government’s acceptance of a number of important recommendations to improve the human rights situation in the country.
At the end of the review on March 16, UNHC adopted Zimbabwe’s UPR report.
Civic society organisations present are, however, saddened that despite consistent participation by Zimbabwe in successive UPR sessions, the situation on the ground remains dire with State authorities showing disregard for basic freedoms, particularly the freedoms of assembly and expression.
The UPR is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN member States and is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.
The Zimbabwean government, in November last year, presented its human rights national report for its UPR and after reviewing the report — which had input from Harare, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, civil society organisations and UN agencies —16 out of 17 members raised issues on the human rights situation in the country and the UNHC made a number of recommendations.
A Zimbabwean delegation, led by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, appeared before the UNHC on March 16 to report on these recommendations, saying the government supported 151 out of the 260 recommendations it had received.
Mnangagwa, who is also the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister, reaffirmed the country’s commitment to strengthening its legal and policy framework as well as institutions responsible for monitoring the human rights situation. He also spoke of government’s total commitment to the protection and respect of human rights as enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution.
Zimbabwe’s report highlights the country’s human rights record and the measures taken by the government in protecting and promoting human rights.
During the review, Zimbabwe received 260 recommendations and supported 151 and deferred 100 for further consultation.
Mnangagwa expressed gratitude to the interventions that have been made by representatives of ZHRC and civil society operating within Zimbabwe, saying the partnership between government and these institutions will continue over the years as they implement the supported recommendations in Geneva.
Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) director Okay Machisa presented a joint oral statement for his organisation and International Federation of Human Rights (FiDH) during the session saying both institutions value the commitment by Zimbabwe to take concrete steps to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders.
“We note the commitment from government that violence directed against human rights defenders will not be tolerated, that perpetrators will be held accountable… to investigate the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Itai Dzamara and ensure that those responsible are brought to book,” said Machisa.
The ZimRights director said they were still concerned that human rights defenders continue to face harassment, arbitrary arrests and torture for exercising their freedoms to assemble and of expression.
Machisa said it is further saddening to note that after celebrating the inauguration of a progressive Constitution that creates mechanisms for an independent judiciary, the government immediately introduced the Constitution Amendment Bill No. 1 which seeks to take away the same safeguards for an independent judiciary.
“A strong and independent judiciary is critical to the building of a strong human rights culture in any country.”
Blessing Gorejena who gave an oral statement on the adoption and on behalf of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and Civicus said the greatest sign of commitment by the government is not merely attending UPR sessions and accepting recommendations.
“The ultimate evidence of commitment is positive change in the human rights environment.
We are saddened that despite consistent participation by Zimbabwe in successive UPR sessions, the situation on the ground remains dire with state authorities showing disregard for basic freedoms, particularly the freedoms of assembly and expression.”