Civil society escalates pressure for reconciliation body
CIVIL society organisations have ratcheted up pressure on President Robert Mugabe to expedite the appointment of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), which should have been established more than two years ago.
The civil society organisations are working under the banner of the National Transitional Justice Working Group Zimbabwe (NTJWGZ).
The commission, whose major functions will include ensuring post-conflict justice, healing and reconciliation, was supposed to become operational in 2013 when Zimbabwe adopted the new constitution, but there is still nothing to suggest that urgency on the part of politicians to set it up.
This is despite the fact that Parliament’s Standing Rules and Orders Committee (SROC) completed interviews for prospective commissioners late last year and submitted the names of shortlisted candidates to President Mugabe for appointment.
The Financial Gazette learnt this week that government functionaries were not aware of progress, highlighting reluctance by government bigwigs to operationalise the commission.
The NPRC is one of seven commissions introduced by the new Constitution created during the inclusive government.
Given that the commission is already two years into its 10-year lifespan and that time is certainly running out, the NTJWGZ is now preparing to petition President Mugabe, within the next two weeks, to expedite the appointments.
Speaker of the National Assembly, Jacob Mudenda, who also chairs the SROC, will also be petitioned.
It is understood that the SROC shortlisted 16 commissioners and forwarded their names to the President’s Office in December last year but nothing has happened since then.
The identities of the prospective commissioners have also remained a mystery.
Both Mudenda and Nelson Chamisa, the chairperson of the sub-committee of the SROC which interviewed prospective commissioners, confirmed that the matter was now in the hands of the President.
Chairperson of the NTJWGZ, Alec Muchadehama, said: “We specifically made a call that there should be interviews for people who are supposed to be commissioners of the NPRC and even called for the speeding up of the process. We were glad that the interviews were carried out although in a manner we did not agree with because it wasn’t as transparent as we wanted it to be, but after the interviews were done, we understand that the SROC came up with 16 names and presented to the President, but since then, nothing has been heard as to what happened. It has a lifespan of 10 years and so already, time is flying and the commission is not there. This is a constitutional commission which is supposed to be established in terms of the Constitution and not the whims of the president of Parliament,” said Muchadehama.
The lawyer confirmed plans to petition President Mugabe over the issue saying: “We are going to pursue this matter with vigour, even if it means sending a petition to the President urging him to expedite the process.”
Muchadehama also criticised the interviewing process by the SROC, which he said raised eyebrows.
“We were not even given the names of those shortlisted by Parliament. We call on Parliament to do that because it is supposed to be a transparent process and when names are hidden the process becomes opaque and we do not know on what basis the President would appoint those,” he said.
Chamisa absolved his committee of any wrongdoing.
“We did our duty as the sub-committee of the SROC in conducting the interviews. We submitted the names to the Speaker (Mudenda) for onward submission to the President’s Office,” said Chamisa, dismissing Muchadehama’s claims that there was lack of transparency in the manner the interviews were conducted.
“We run a public accountable institution and everything was transparent. We did all that the constitution requires us to do,” said Chamisa.
Confirming that the names were forwarded to the President Mugabe, Mudenda said: “We sent the necessary information and they are dealing with the matter right now.”
Chief secretary to the President, Misheck Sibanda, could not be reached for comment.
His deputy, Christian Katsande, referred questions back to Sibanda’s office.
Presidential spokesman, George Charamba, was also not reachable.
While the Constitution says that the NPRC should have a 10-year lifespan, it is not clear how far back the commission will consider cases brought before it.
But certainly, it would have to deal with the violence that erupted after the June 27, 2008 elections, reportedly claiming more than 300 lives.
It is still debatable whether Zimbabwe would ever close some historical chapters, especially from its distant past.
The country is now confronted with the seemingly insurmountable challenge of trying to strike a balance on the divisive question of how to simultaneously secure justice, truth, accountability and forgiveness, without sacrificing one or the other.
Human Rights NGO Forum director, Abel Chikomo, said more worrying was that there was not even an enabling piece of legislation or even a bill before Parliament to give birth to the commission.
“It is not even clear which ministry would be responsible for administering the Act and so we just assume that it is the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. No one is even bothered to spell out these issues,” Chikomo said.
Heal Zimbabwe Trust director, Rashid Mahiya, said the country’s citizens have waited long for healing and the commission must be put in place urgently to deliver peoples’ expectations.
“It must guarantee justice, truth, reparation and reconciliation. It must reflect the victims’ needs, protect witnesses and avoid self-serving delineations,” he said.
Similar commissions in other countries have focused on truth as a basis for reconciliation.
For instance, the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 2002 and the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 1995.