5 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Confusion Remains Over Dual Citizenship Laws

There is still serious confusion over whether the new draft constitution allows for dual citizenship or not, with the parties in government appearing to translate the new rules differently.

The new document does not explicitly allow or deny Zimbabweans the right to dual citizenship, but does recognise Zimbabwean citizenship by birth, descent and registration. Section 42 (e) contains the only comment on the contentious issue, stating that an act of Parliament can prohibit dual citizenship.

This is a slight change to the previous draft charter released last year, which had said that an act of Parliament may pass legislation for 'the prohibition [or permitting] of dual citizenship in respect of citizens by descent or registration'. The change is that the phrase 'or permitting' has been removed.

But according to the democracy group OSISA, this deletion "makes no substantive difference, merely removing a confusion caused by the suggestion that legislation would be needed to permit dual citizenship when the constitution does not otherwise forbid it."

To make matters more complicated, officials in government are not agreed on the details, despite agreeing to put the document forward for a referendum. The MDC-T has repeatedly stated that dual citizenship is definitely provided for with party leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, telling world leaders in Switzerland last month that this was so.

This is contrary to the opinion held by ZANU PF. Most recently, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said: "There is no dual citizenship, and there will be no Diaspora vote, the country does not have the funding for it."

Andrew Makoni from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said there is no clear law on dual citizenship, saying "it seems to me the MPs responsible for drafting these laws didn't want to define what dual citizenship means."

"There are fears on one side of government about what dual citizenship would mean in respect of a Diaspora vote. So the challenge is that we (Zimbabwe) have postponed the issue...it has essentially been parked," Makoni said.

He added that the confusion is "unfortunate" especially for the millions of Zimbabweans living in the Diaspora, "many of them not out of choice."

"They are being asked to contribute to a society that does not recognise their rights and that is very unfortunate. So it really doesn't appear as if this issue is a priority for the government, but it needs to be," Makoni said.

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