Press Statement on the Constitution of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) notes the recent notification by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (‘the Commission’) of the retirement of four Commissioners Dr. Ellen Sithole (Deputy Chairperson), Dr. Joseph Kurebwa, Kwanele Jirira and Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube with effect from 7 May 2020. The four leave office after completing their maximum two terms amounting to 10 years. The Commissioners were appointed in 2010. The Commission already had a vacancy after the resignation of Commissioner Carrol Khombe on 30 October 2018, which position has not been filled to date. This leaves the Commission with a total of five vacancies out of the full complement of nine Commissioners in terms of section 242(1)(a) and (b) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, 2013 and a statutory quorum of five Commissioners for the discharge of official business requiring the Commission as a whole.

The Forum notes with disappointment the lack of urgency on the part of the authorities in appointing Commissioners leaving the Commission improperly constituted. Section 5 of the First Schedule of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Act [Chapter 10:30] states that on the death of, or the vacation of office by, a Commissioner, the President shall fill the vacancy within three months. The provision is meant to ensure the smooth running of the Commission. Commissioner Carrol Khombe’s replacement has not been made for over one and half year, in violation of the legal requirement for such replacement to be done within three months. The President is required to gazette the vacation of the Commissioner from office, causing Parliament to commence a nomination and interview exercise.

Anticipating the retirement of four Commissioners in May 2020, Parliament ought to have commenced with the recruitment process to identify replacements for the retiring four Commissioners. The delay has the fatal effect of arresting procedural meetings by the Commission. Any reports made by the Commission cannot be published as they require adoption by Commissioners constituting a quorum.

The powers to investigate, document, report and recommend remedial action in terms of the Constitution are functions that are at the heartbeat of the Commission’s existence to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights for all. Yet this is defeated under the status quo.

This comes at a time when the government has gazetted the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill which, among others, seeks to remove the Commission’s powers to receive and consider complaints from the public on maladministration by public officials, effectively limiting the scope of the Commission while returning an Ombudsman Office that lacks the independent of the Commission.
The Forum calls on the following:

The Parliament and the President to urgently finalize the process of recruitment and appointment of five Commissioners of the ZHRC to ensure that critical functions of the Commission are not unduly suspended; and The government to withdraw the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill which takes away elements of checks and balances, institutional independence and accountability.

Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (HRForum)