Victims and Witness Protection in Transitional Justice in Zimbabwe

Overview

One of the fundamental guidelines of transitional justice is that a secure environment is critical for the process to take place. While full security may necessitate long-term institutional reform, it is critical that the safety of victims, witnesses and all those involved in the process are guaranteed both in law and in practice. A robust policy framework protecting victims and witnesses assuring all those seeking the truth about the past, holding the perpetrators of violence to account, reconciling divided groups and (re)establishing peace is vital for victims, affected communities, and for the future of both state and society. The aim of the victim and witness protection mechanism is to ensure their full and unfettered participation in the work of institutionalized mechanisms of transitional justice is not prejudiced as a result of real and imagined fear and intimidation to give evidence.

Background

When President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa signed the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Act (NPRC Act), Chapter 10:32 into law, he operationalized the work of the NPRC, one of the five Independent (Chapter 12) Commissions, established by the Constitution in 2013 tasked with enhancing the advancement of democracy in Zimbabwe. The gazetting of the enabling legislation marked a huge step in the country’s long and arduous path towards addressing the exigencies of the past in order to achieve national healing, reconciliation and social cohesion. The promulgation was also a momentous occasion for civil society organisations working in the realm of peacebuilding, among them Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT) and the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG) to welcome the gazetting of the enabling legislation, despite noting that the Act had ‘monumental weaknesses and […] fell short of an ideal law to address this important task’.

Perhaps one of its foremost contradictions is that the legislation that created the NPRC, fails to provide a clear and concise definition of what constitutes a ‘victim’. The net effect of such a misnomer is that even the definitions of witness and perpetrator become equally abstruse which potentially curtails the parameters within which the Commission operates. In the contemporary transitional justice initiative in Zimbabwe, the basic question that needs to be confronted is: who is the victim? Given the convoluted historical narrative of the conflicts that have befallen this country, the definition is obviously a highly contested one, since it evolves.

Subjective choices as to who is or is not entitled to benefits is based on their ‘victimhood.’ What is critical at the operational level of the NPRC programming is that choices have to be made about who ‘fits’ the role of a victim and who has to be left out. The NPRC could draw lessons from most post-conflict contexts like Burundi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and South Africa that grappled with the conception of victim and victimhood, albeit with serious challenges, in order to ensure a policy framework for the protection of victims and witnesses is constructed.

Read the full policy brief here (864KB PDF)

Source: Heal Zimbabwe