Govt urged to ‘wake up’ after resignation of human rights chief

Prof Reg Austin claims ‘inhibiting laws’ are hampering the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission

By Alex Bell
02 January 2013

The resignation of the head of Zimbabwe’s Human Rights Commission is being described as a serious ‘wake up call’ for the government, which is being urged to strengthen its human rights commitments.

Professor Reginald Austin stepped down as head of the Commission last month, citing ‘inhibiting laws’ and a lack of resources.

“The critical reason for my resignation is the legal framework … within which the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission is expected now and in the future, to carry out its mandate,” Austin was quoted as saying in a statement.

He added: “As a national human rights institution the commission must be independent and properly capacitated.” Austin cited sections of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Act and electoral laws that he said impinged on the Commission’s work.

The Commission was set up in 2009 after the formation of the unity government, as part of a number of reforms needed for free and fair elections. But years later, the Commission remains hobbled with no support from the government in terms of either resources or respect.

The Human Rights Commission Bill was only sworn in late last year, among a number of other bills that appeared to be rushed through parliament ahead of elections. The Bill actively prevents the Commission from dealing with any political violence before 2008. A clause in the Bill allows Human Rights Commissioners only to look at rights abuses after they were sworn into office on 13th February 2009.

Irene Petras, the head of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) group, told SW Radio Africa that she is disappointed by the resignation, but not surprised.

“I can understand the reasons for the resignation because there are some serious problems in terms of the Commission doing the work that needs to be done. However, somebody who points out the challenges is to be commended, at least so we can address these issues,” Petras said.

She explained that the move must be viewed as a wake-up call, “because we have been seeing a real lack of will by government to make sure these institution are properly resourced and can function independently.”

“I just hope the government won’t ignore these warnings again,” Petras said, adding that the pressure must continue to grow on the government to strengthen its commitments to the protection of human rights.

In a statement the ZLHR also added that Austin’s decision to step down is a threat to the protection of human rights.

“This resignation is an unequivocal statement of the condemnation of the current operating framework particularly the excessive powers of the executive,” it said.

It added: “Lack of effective powers and independence of the commission to investigate and take strong action where human rights violations have been brought to its attention and its inability to independently investigate and take strong action in relation to electoral-related violations.”

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3 Responsesto “Govt urged to ‘wake up’ after resignation of human rights chief”

  1. wilbert_mukori says:

    When this GNU was formed many people, particularly those in the West, dismissed it as unworkable. The GNU was tasked to implement a number of democratic reforms and yet concede excessive dictatorial powers to Mugabe – the very man in the GNU who would be fighting tooth and nail to ensure none of the reforms see the light of day.

    On the other hand many people in SADC and Zimbabwe itself, much more
    Tsvangirai and his MDC friends – wanted the GNU to work. Mugabe knew Tsvangirai and his MDC friends were so desperate to on the gravy train they would sign whatever he offered them and, of course, that is exactly what the tyrant did – offer Tsvangirai a paper crown! Not that the latter noticed because the minute he got on the gravy train, mai-omai he and his mates buried their heads in the feeding trough.

    For the first three years of the GNU at least, Tsvangirai sung praises of Mugabe and the GNU not even the cold reality of corruption, looting and lawlessness
    would shout him up!

    Of course time has proved the sceptics of the GNU working were right. The
    biggest mistake most Zimbabweans made was to hope against hope that the GNU would work.

    When Professor Austin was sworn in as Chairman of the ZHRC in 2009; he like so many other Zimbabwe was hoping against hope that the Commission would be carrying out its important functions. When he finally resigned, he cited sections of the ZHRC Act and electoral laws that impinged on the Commission’s work, he said. The Act and those laws were not change since his swearing in in 2009; and it was no accident that they turned the Commission into a feeble and useless body. It has taken Professor Austin four years to acknowledge something he knew from the start – that the Commission was a political gimmick to give the outward impression a functional democratic institution to hide the ruthless dictatorship improve the dictatorship that there was reform when in reality there was none.

    Look at the all the other key institutions like the Election Supervisory Commission, the Media Boards, the Parliamentary Committee tasked to write the new constitution, indeed the whole GNU itself; they are all structured to create the illusion of democratic change whilst hiding the Zanu PF dictatorship they all serve. Even the best wolf-in-a-sheep’s- coat disguise cannot hide that wolf snout and those teeth; again and again Zimbabweans have seen the real tyrannical Mugabe behind the GNU enough to know this dysfunctional will not deliver free and fair elections.

    Professor Austin has had the courage and resolve to reject being a part to a dysfunctional Commission. Will the rest of the nation have the courage and resolve to reject this dysfunctional GNU’s lie that the Copac draft constitution is the democratic constitution the nation has been waiting for.

    Professor Austin’s resignation was not a wake-up call to the GNU government “because we have been seeing a real lack of will by government to make sure these institution are properly resourced and can function independently,” as Ms Petras of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights would have us believe.

    It is a wake-up call to all Zimbabweans to finally accept the reality that Mugabe has never intended the ZHRC or any other institution of state to function and carry out its democratic duties. The resignation of Professor Austin is not going to turn a hardened tyrant into gracious and open minded democratic. It is regrettable that ever since Tsvangirai and his MDC friends were allowed on the gravy train they have seen the sheep in Mugabe and not the wolf in a sheep’s coat. It will be tragic if the nation should follow blundering Tsvangirai blindly in this folly!

    • Yepec says:

      Here is a clear and simple characterization of a CIO agent – personality politics. Without fail, Wilbert Mukori, is a consistent critic of Tsvangirai, his GNU or the Copac Draft, without offering alternative strategies (plans) or options for the electorate. Surely, the people want to know how to get rid of their current oppression and then how to safeguard it against potential despots like Tsvangirai, as he says.

      • wilbert_mukori says:

        I have offered a solution, just because you do not comprehend the it, that does not mean it does not count as a solution.

        I am saying people should not look at the ZHRC as the only failed institution but everything that this GNU has done. we will not have free and fair elections even if all the issues Professor Austin mentioned about the ZHRC were put right.

        Rejecting the Copac draft will force the nation to implement the reforms and write a democratic constitution inplace of the rubbish Copac produced.

        If the Copac draft is rejected it will be final curtail call on Mugabe and this Zanu PF dictatorship. I do not believe a CIO agent would make such a bold proposal ever!

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