29 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Rights Commission Chief Quits

Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission chairperson Professor Reg Austin has resigned. In a statement yesterday, Prof Austin cited lack of legal and material capacity of the commission to carry out its mandate.

Prof Austin said he informed President Mugabe of his decision on December 13 this year.

"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," he said.

Prof Austin said when ZHRC was created in February 2009, with commissioners being sworn-in in March 2010, there were enormous expectations of its role. The reality, however, he said, was different by mid-2010.

"A senior Government official briefed the commissioners on the situation. He compared the new commission with that 'of a baby for whose birth the parents had made no preparations: no nursery, no cot, no blankets and no baby food'.

"In our case it was: no budget, no accommodation, no mobility, no staff and no implementing act or corporate legal status."

He said with minimum funding and advice/assistance of the UNDP and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the commissioners sought to prepare themselves for their mandate.

The Commissioners, he said, were equally convinced that the ZHRC must not become a 'Super-NGO', dependent upon external funding.

"An immediate legal problem was that Constitutional Amendment 19, creating the Commission, failed to provide for its independence."

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