Zim Constitution, A Paper Tiger-ZLHR

Harare, May 22, 2015 – Zimbabwe’s new governance charter has turned out to be the proverbial paper tiger as authorities remain reluctant to fully implement it and continue to willfully violate its progressive provisions, says the country’s leading legal defence group.

Zimbabwe adopted a new constitution two years ago, which expanded some civil, economic and political rights in a move described as an incremental step towards enjoyment of greater freedoms and fulfilling economic and social rights.

But in a candid evaluation on the implementation of the new constitution, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said the constitution had turned to be a “paper tiger” as Zimbabwean authorities had failed to ensure that the constitution is respected, protected and fully enforced.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) calls for deep and sincere reflection by all sectors, on whether this charter is being used to improve the conditions of our society, bring greater accountability and transparency to our state institutions and actors, and safeguard the rights and freedoms of all who live in Zimbabwe, or whether it is a ‘paper tiger’ that is becoming increasingly meaningless and ineffectual in the mind and life of the citizen,” ZLHR said in its assessment of the government’s compliance with the new constitution.

ZLHR faulted the government for willfully contravening some provisions of the constitution through failing to constitute some of the independent commissions that support democracy in the country such as the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, the Gender Commission and the Zimbabwe Land Commission and the reluctance to implement the provisions of devolution.

The human rights organisation accused law enforcement authorities of continuing to misinterpret and selectively misapply laws to suppress freedom of association and assembly despite the constitution broadening the powers for people to peacefully gather and express themselves while local authorities and central government continue to contravene fundamental protections of rights to education, health services, potable water, and freedom from arbitrary eviction.

“These are hard, cold facts. They fly in the face of those Zimbabweans who voted for the promise of a new constitutional era and ethos,” ZLHR said.

The Irene Petras-led ZLHR said it was disconcerting that in two years, Parliament had only amended and promulgated two Acts, the Electoral Amendment Act and the National Prosecuting Authority Act to comply with the Constitution and only considered three bills namely the Zimbabwe Gender Commission Bill, the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Bill and the General Laws Amendment Bill.

“This should be a cause for concern, both for the executive and the legislature, not to mention all right-thinking Zimbabweans. It calls into question the efficiency of executive and legislative processes and the commitment to speedily ensure that laws governing our conduct adhere to the supreme law,” said ZLHR.

Although the government recently gazetted the General Laws Amendment Bill seeking to amend some Acts to bring them into conformity with the constitution, ZLHR charged that the proposed changes were cosmetic and inimical to democracy and good governance.

“Of concern is the fact that the Bill mostly introduces only minor changes to these Acts, such as re-referencing, changing titles of offices, officials, institutions etc, and the inclusion of new preambles. While many Acts require such cosmetic amendments, for many Acts the changes are piecemeal and fail to align the most crucial and substantive provisions required to comply with the Constitution.

ZLHR said the proposed amendments to some Acts fall far short of bringing all of the country’s laws in line with the new Constitution as they do not further the protection of constitutional rights.