UNDP Provides Training to the New Human Rights Commission

15 Nov 2012

Members of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) have benefited from an intensive, week-long training programme, a month after the country’s premier national human rights institution was given a new lease of life, following the enactment of the ZHRC Act in October 2012.

The initiative was held courtesy of the UNDP and EU’s project on Support for the strengthening of the promotion and protection of Human Rights and Rule of Law through enhanced capacity of institutions.

The event, attended by all the 8 commissioners was held from 5-9 November, 2012 in Victoria Falls, with facilitators drawn from  National  Human Rights Institutions of Uganda, Kenya,Malawi, UNDP Country Office and the UNDP Regional Service Centre for Eastern and Southern Africa in Johannesburg.

Chairperson of the Commission Professor Reginald Austin set the tone of the proceedings with a reminder that as “a totally new institution” the ZHRC is faced with the “enormous task of management of expectations in Zimbabwe.”

The highlight of the programme was the exchange of experiences, courtesy of  interactive sessions with  resource persons  from African National Human Rights Commissions   of  Malawi, Uganda and Kenya.

Sharing the Ugandan experience, Mr. Gordon Mwesigye, the  Secretary, Uganda Human Rights Commission  noted that a national human rights institution plays an important role in the promotion and protection of human rights in any country. “It would be preferred if the national human rights institution was fully funded by the government.”

As a new national human rights institution n of  Zimbabwe, the ZHRC has no precedent on which to base its programmes and priorities.  Limited in funding, it has no staff and therefore, institutional capacity building including setting up of a Secretariat and a fully-functional office remains top of its agenda.

Urging the ZHRC to partner strategically at all levels of society, including the media and state institutions, Mr. Brian Kagoro a UNDP Advisor based at the UNDP Regional Service Centre for Eastern and Southern Africa noted  that “partnerships are not an option, the ZHRC Act implies them.” The ZHRC Act mandates the Commission with a number of functions ranging from investigations, visiting and inspection of prison and detention facilities, inspection of refugee camps, mental institutions; ensuring and providing appropriate redress for victims of violations of human rights and  injustice; and cooperating with human rights institutions belonging to international, continental or regional organisations of which Zimbabwe is a member.

“What is critical is the creative interpretation that the ZHRC can give to the Act in order to meet its promotional and protective mandate” said UNDP Programme Specialist for Justice and Human Rights, Ms. Tafadzwa Muvingi.

During the workshop, commissioners acquired practical lessons on the legal framework governing the ZHRC, operations, concepts and terminology used by national human rights institutions including their role as advisor to parliament and Government, as well as donor and media relations.

Describing the event as an eye-opener, Commissioner Kwanele Muriel Jirira cited the information sharing from “our sister commissions from Malawi, Kenya and Uganda” as being very useful.

“I learnt that team work is key. You cannot achieve any milestone without collaboration with other human rights bodies locally and internationally.”