Heal Zimbabwe is gravely worried by the lack of contingency planning by the Executive and Parliament in ensuring that new commissioners for the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) commissioners are appointed without delay. On 26 May 2020, the ZHRC through a press statement notified the nation on the retirement of four commissioners. The ZHRC is one of the five independent commissions supporting democracy established under Chapter 12 of the constitution. Some of its functions include promoting awareness of and respect for human rights and freedoms at all levels at all levels of society and to protect the public against abuse of power and maladministration by State and public institutions and by officers of those institutions.
While the ZHRC has highlighted that the term of office for the four commissioners had ended on 7 May 2020, after serving two terms of the five years each since 2010, it is Heal Zimbabwe‘s view that given the country’s poor human rights record, the country cannot at this time function without the services of the ZHRC or wait for the vacancies to be filled within three months as stipulated in the ZHRC Act. The retirement by the commissioners has left the commission with only 4 out of the 9 commissioners who do not constitute a quorum. Implications of the retirement are that the remaining commissioners will not conduct meetings since they do not constitute a quorum for the purposes of policy resolutions or adoption of monitoring and investigation reports. Reports by the ZHRC will also be filed and will only be adopted once new Commissioners are appointed.
Heal Zimbabwe’s contends that during the ongoing COVID 19 lockdown, ZHRC services are needed by citizens even more. The recent abduction of MDC Alliance activists being a case in point of the immense responsibilities that the commission must fulfill to ensure protection of human rights and freedoms of citizens. In rural areas, for example, health personnel continue to conduct their duties without Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) which again is another gross human rights violation. This is besides the fact Zimbabwe is party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which obligates governments to take steps to realise the right to health including actions necessary for the prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases. This includes preventing infection of health workers. Added to this, the retirements also mean that ZHRC cannot oversee the implementation of the COVID 19 regulations by the government. More importantly, it also means that citizens are not able to approach the ZHRC to make formal submissions on human rights issues in line with Section 243 (d) of the constitution
In light of this, Heal Zimbabwe implores Parliament to expedite the process of conducting interviews for new commissioners so that the ZHRC can resume its constitutional obligations without delay.