ZHRC Plunges Into Fresh Crisis

By Professor Matodzi

Harare, September 17, 2015 – Zimbabwe’s human rights watchdog, the
Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) has plunged into a fresh
crisis after the leader of its secretariat was appointed to serve as a
judge.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku on Wednesday swore in ZHRC executive
secretary Jester Helena Charewa to serve as High Court judge together
with five other judges namely Davison Foroma, Clement Phiri, Tawanda
Chitapi, Edith Mushore and Nyaradzo Munangati-Manongwe.
Chidyausiku also swore in three High Court judges to serve on the
Supreme Court bench including Justice Chinembiri Bhunu, Justice Tendai
Uchena and Justice Susan Mavhangira.
The appointment of Charewa cuts short her stint at ZHRC where she had
served as executive secretary for less than two years after her
appointment in June last year and now compels the Elasto Mugwadi-led
human rights watchdog to scout for her replacement.
The ZHRC, which was established in 2009 as a national institution and
whose mandate is to protect, promote and enforce human rights in
Zimbabwe laboured for several years to engage the head of its
secretariat and only appointed Charewa in June last year to lead its
secretariat.
During Charewa’s short stint as head of the secretariat, the ZHRC
produced some damning reports exposing human rights violations in the
mass displacement of villagers in Tokwe Mukosi and Chingwizi and in
Hurungwe, where several electoral irregularities were exposed.
Prior to joining ZHRC, Charewa was a former Deputy Registrar of the
African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and before her appointment
to that continental post in September last year, she was the senior
legal officer and special assistant to the President of the African
Court.
Established in 2009, as part of a raft of democratic reforms agreed on
by parties in the now disbanded power-sharing government of President
Robert Mugabe and former Prime Minister and MDC-T leader Morgan
Tsvangirai, the ZHRC is one of the independent commissions whose main
function is to promote awareness of and respect for human rights and
freedoms at all levels of society.
The human rights watchdog is also tasked with promoting the
protection, development and attainment of human rights and freedoms
and will monitor, assess and ensure observance of human rights and
freedoms, to receive and consider complaints from the public and to
take such action in regard to the complaints, as it considers
appropriate.
Other functions of the ZHRC are to protect the public against abuse of
power and maladministration by state and public institutions and by
officers of those institutions.
The ZHRC is also expected to submit reports to Parliament on matters
relating to human rights and citizens’ freedoms.
Charewa is the second high profile official to leave the ZHRC after
its first chairperson Reg Austin resigned in 2012 citing inhibiting
laws and lack of resources.
Prior to his resignation, Austin had complained about the absence of a
proper office for the commission and lack of equipment that rendered
the commission ineffectual.
At the time of his departure, the country’s leading legal defence
group, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said Austin’s resignation
as a serious threat to the protection of human rights in the troubled
southern African country.