Felex Share : Senior Reporter
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), which was accused of partiality after rapping police for alleged brutality during opposition-led violent demonstrations, yesterday urged opposition parties to observe the Constitution and respect people’s rights when demonstrating. ZHRC had received brickbats from legal experts and political analysts for condemning the police for thwarting violent protests while being mum on opposition violence.The protests were engineered by MDC-T, Zimbabwe People First and their cronies in civil society ahead of the 36th Sadc Summit.
They were organised under the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) banner.
Shops were looted, vehicles and property burnt as innocent people were attacked.
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Police officers on duty were not spared.
ZHRC chairperson Mr Elasto Mugwadi said protesters who unlawfully stood in the way of police officers on duty should be dealt with.
“Even the police have rights too,” he said.
“If someone tries to unlawfully stand in the way of police officers on duty, the law must take its course because we cannot allow banditry in the country.
“We do not condone any form of violence from any source. We acknowledge the demonstrators, in terms of Section 59 of the Constitution, have a right to demonstrate in a peaceful manner and whatever they do should not also infringe on the rights of non-demonstrators. Every right comes with a responsibility.”
On opposition political parties, Mr Mugwadi said: “We encourage the opposition parties to ensure that if they are aspiring to form the next Government, they have to do that in observance of the Constitution and democratic principles enshrined in that Constitution and not through violent means, destruction of property and intimidation. We encourage political parties that when demonstrating they should do that with regard to people’s rights. They have to understand and enhance rights of the people and not frustrate them. We are there to promote Constitutionalism and ensure the principles of democracy are respected, not only by Government, but by all and sundry.”
He said ZHRC was impartial and would never push the interests of any political party.
Section 236 of the Constitution stipulates that ZHRC, being an independent body, must not “act in a partisan manner, further the interests of any political party or cause/violate the fundamental rights or freedoms of any person.”
“ZHRC is not aligned to any political party. It is very much independent and carries out its mandate with due diligence, objectivity and impartiality, without fear or favour but putting emphases on the need to promote, protect and enforce human rights for all. We have also seen improper misconduct by the police. Police have a right to ensure there is law and order, peace and tranquillity but they should not teargas every area including places of residence or where people that have nothing to do demonstrations are affected. We do investigate and whatever we gather we do not sift, we reveal. They should also ensure that in their operations they do not affect innocent people.”
Mr Mugwadi said in one of the incidents showing indiscriminate teargasing by police, the Commissioners were recently affected by tear smoke while in a meeting.
Asked why they had taken only three days to investigate the violent demonstration, he said investigations were ongoing.
“Investigations are ongoing and in whatever we do, we also encourage law enforcement agents to cooperate with us,” Mr Mugwadi said.
“That statement issued on Sunday is a balanced report of what was going on at that particular time. The investigations are ongoing and what did not come out clearly in that statement is that facts included the time from which the demonstrations started that is in Ruwa, Epworth and Bulawayo. ZHRC should have made reference to the dates of the cases which had been investigated.”
Analysts labelled ZHRC Commissioners “armchair critics” saying they should investigate thoroughly before making haste conclusions.
The ZHRC, established in terms of 242 of the Constitution, has the mandate to promote, protect and enforce human rights, including the right to administrative justice.