27 May 2012

Zimbabwe: Challenge for GNU - Heed Pillay Advice

Photo: ONU/Jean-Marc Ferré
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Navanethem Pillay (file photo).

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay on Friday concluded an insightful five-day trip to Zimbabwe. Her visit, the first by a rights commissioner, was a milestone in some ways.

In the past, the former Zanu PF government was openly hostile to any attempt to investigate its persistent use of State security apparatus to commit human rights violations.

By inviting the commissioner for a visit, government sent positive signals that it was ready to engage with the international community on human rights issues -- aspects that are pertinent to any civilised society.

What is required of the coalition government now is to go a step further and show that the invitation was a well-intended move by a country determined to change its course.

This change can be achieved through addressing the important matters that were raised by Pillay. Among these, is the need for the State to immediately stop being the perpetrator-in-chief. Instead, it should assume the rightful role of being the "primary duty-bearer" in safeguarding and protecting human rights.

The state should rise above political party differences and foster a culture of respecting human rights. Doing away with laws that infringe on citizens's rights can be a good start.

Among these are the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Broadcasting Services Act and the Public Order and Security Act.

Pillay made the observation that the Zimbabwe Media Commission "seemed much more concerned with controlling and censoring media than with promoting freedom of expression".

Her observation deserves serious consideration, coming a day after the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe dashed hopes of freeing the airwaves by ruling out more radio licences on the flimsy pretext that frequencies had been exhausted.

On the contentious issue of elections, Pillay said unless the parties agreed quickly on some key major reforms, the next election could turn into a repeat of the 2008 bloodbath.

Pillay's recommendations go a long way in addressing matters that are fundamental to the human rights problems in Zimbabwe. What is now needed is for the parties to the inclusive government to take them on board and chart a new direction for Zimbabwe.

Quote of the week

"I also urged him to ensure that the future elections will be free and fair, and free from violence," UN rights chief Navi Pillay after the 90-minute meeting with Mugabe at State House, in the capital Harare.

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