New constitution a white elephant, say experts

Amnesty International’s director for Southern Africa, Deprose Muchen, said: ‘The government has failed to amend all the laws rendered unconstitutional…”

By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
23 May 2014

One year after Zimbabwe adopted a Constitution promising better civil liberties for all, observers and experts say most of its provisions have largely remained unimplemented.

Amnesty International said ‘legislation restricting internationally recognized human rights is still in place in Zimbabwe.’ In a statement Amnesty International’s director for Southern Africa, Deprose Muchen, said: ‘The government has failed to amend all the laws rendered unconstitutional and continues to use these laws to repress people exercising their rights.’

The human rights group said between April and May this year alone it had documented incidents where the public order, security and criminal laws were used to deny ‘dozens’ of citizens their right to express themselves peacefully. Among the cases cited were those of Masvingo residents who were arrested as they peacefully protested questionable charges from the council and the barring of journalists from marching in commemoration of the World Press Freedom Day.

In Harare the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights on Thursday held a discussion to audit the state’s compliance with the new Constitution, during which speakers agreed with Amnesty International. Titled ‘The Zimbabwe Constitution One Year On-Gem or White Elephant’, the discussion brought together local and regional law experts who were generally agreed that the public has been short changed one year on.

Justice Moses Chinhengo said rather than simply blame lack of resources the government must show the steps it has taken to align the laws with the Constitution. Justice Chinhengo said since the Constitution lays down basic laws the correct thing would be to use it, even if the statutes have not been changed.

The former High Court Judge’s comments seemed to fly in the face of Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa who recently defended the continuing use of the criminal defamation law. Mnangagwa said as long as the people don’t approach the Constitutional Court to repeal the law the government would continue to use it.

MDC-T shadow Minister for Justice, Jessie Majome, blamed lack of progress on the government saying the legislative process is still largely driven by the executive. Human rights activist Jenni Williams said the government was prioritizing its ZimAsset economic recovery plan ahead of the Constitution.

Since last July’s election ZANU PF has been trying to sell its $27 billion economic recovery plan but the donor community, including their allies China, has largely been non-committal.

Kumbirai Mafunda, a spokesman from the lawyers human rights group, said the discussion resolved to list all the concerns raised by the speakers and compile a document to be submitted to government. He said: ‘All the speakers were agreed that the government is to blame and we are therefore going to confront the government with evidence of abuse of people’s rights and try and push them to adhere to the Constitution.’



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