UNDERSTANDING THE ZIMBABWE INDEPENDENT COMPLAINTS COMMISSION (ICC)
It is essential for the government to provide an effective and independent mechanism for receiving and investigating complaints from members of the public about misconduct on the part of members of the state security services and for remedying any harm caused by such misconduct as stated by section 210 of the Zimbabwean constitution. Regardless of any position that one holds, no one should be above the law. Zimbabwe’s history is littered with cases of extreme use of violence by members of the state security, creating an impression that security forces can engage in any misconduct with impunity. Therefore, there is need for the government to intervene and protect the public from any harm caused perpetrated by the state security agents by enabling effective and independent complaints mechanisms.
- Section 210 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
Section 210 of the Zimbabwean constitution, adopted in 2013 states that ‘’an act of the parliament must provide an effective and independent mechanism for receiving and investigating complaints from members of the public about misconduct on the part of members of the security services, and for remedying any harm caused by such misconduct.’’
- What is meant by ‘’effective and independent complaints mechanism’’?
An effective and independent complaints mechanism is one that is free from interference by political parties, government institutions and powerful individuals. When independent, the commission will have sufficient powers to investigate complaints against the security services sector without bias. It becomes easier for the public to complain about the misconducts and human rights violations committed by the state security with expectation for genuine remedies. An independent complains mechanism is a way to bring justice to the people who were (are) victims to the misconduct of the state security and also to put an end to this unacceptable behavior that the state security has normalized.
- What has the government done?
In November 2020, the government gazetted a Zimbabwe Independent Complaints Commission (ZICC) Bill in fulfillment of Section 210 of the constitution. Its major purpose is to establish a commission that investigate complains of misconduct on the part of members of the security services. It is expected to be the body that would investigate and remedy incidents like what happened in August 2018 and January 2019 where civilians were brutally assaulted and killed by some members of the state security. See link to the Parliament of Zimbabwe.
- At which stage is the Bill?
Public bills generally go through preliminary stages before they are brought to the parliament. The ZICC bill was gazzeted and is yet to go through its first reading stage where the parliamentary legal committee will determine whether the bill, if enacted, will contravene the declaration of rights or any section of the constitution. The bill will then proceed to the second reading, committee stage and the report stage, only to mention but a few.
- Overview of the ZICC bill.
The Bill is a significant development for quite a number of reasons including that it helps ensure respect for the rule of law in the security sector. It gives effect to Section 210 of the Constitution by providing a complaints mechanism intermediated by a body independent from each of the security services. Also, it seeks to remedy any harm caused by any misconduct on the part of any member of the security services. However, while the Bill is generally progressive, it has some weaknesses that should be addressed before being enacted into law.
- ZICC Bill flaws
- Lack of independence – the ZICC’s independence is eroded by the appointment process of the Commissioners and its assigning to the Office of the President.
- There is no witness protection – the Bill is silent on the protection and security of victims and witnesses who may be threatened as a result of their testimonies or rather participation in any complain against security forces.
- Matters to be held in camera are not specifically defined – the Bill states that Inquiries may be held in camera, but information disclosed in camera may not be disclosed to the public without the authority of the commission.
- Relationship with other Independent Commissions – the Bill does not clearly explain the relationship between the ZICC and other independent commissions including the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission and the National Peace and Reconciliation among others
- Enforcement of the Commission’s recommendations – it is not clear the extent to which the recommendations of the Commission will be enforced, hence there is need for the Bill to clearly identify and include effective enforcement mechanisms.
- Applicability to past violations – the law, seemingly, does not apply in retrospect yet there are many victims of past gross human rights violations committed by state security agents.
- Gender and vulnerable groups – it is notable that the Bill lacks sensitivity on gender, people with disability and vulnerable groups, in general. There is need for the Bill to be worded using inclusive language that does not leave any potential victim outside.
- For further comments, also see Veritas commentary on the ZICC Bill
- What Citizens Must Do
Firstly, as the Bill progresses through Parliament, there is need for citizens to prepare for public hearings so that they can input into the Bill’s drafting effectively. The relevant Parliamentary Committee will conduct public hearings where citizens will have an opportunity to interrogate the contents of the Bill and suggest corrections and improvements.
Secondly, the communities must exercise their rights by raising complaints against the state if there is any form of misconduct, because the Zimbabwean constitution sets forth several provisions applicable to receiving and investigating citizens’ complaints against wrongful acts from public officials and provide or recommend redress, one of them being section 210.
The effectiveness and independence of the ZICC will depend more on the qualities and integrity of its members than on the law under which it operates. More importantly a properly constituted Independent Complaints Mechanism can provide a progressive mechanism that would move Zimbabwe away from being a country where security services act with impunity. Therefore, the fact that the ZICC will come into existence may go some way to prevent members of the security services from committing gross human rights violations.
We as Heal Zimbabwe Trust recommend the government to deal with past issues and account for them so that the public can have confidence in the state security because in the past, we have had instances where citizens reported human rights violations, but it was to no avail, rather it turned them into victims thus creating a rift between the state security particularly the police and the citizens, that way an effective ZICC can be established.