Statement on the occasion of the 2022 International Human Rights Day: Dignity, Freedom and Justice for all

Remarks by UNDP Zimbabwe Resident Representative, Ms. Mia Seppo, at a Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission organised event

December 10, 2022

It is a pleasure for me to address you during this commemoration of the International Human Rights Day and to offer my sincere congratulations on the opening of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission’s (ZHRC) Bulawayo office. Amhlope!

Last year, the ZHRC opened offices in Manicaland, and I am reliably informed that there are plans to do the same in every province in Zimbabwe. I applaud the ZHRC for increasing access to service delivery and consistently supporting the decentralization of human rights services to more provinces which creates platforms to facilitate prevention of violations and provides platforms for recourse. These efforts are therefore critical in translating this theme into recognizable and transformational changes to people’s lives.

Let me also acknowledge the ZHRC accredited as an ‘A’ status National Human Rights Institution by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. The ZHRC contributes plays a key role in bridging the gap between Human Rights at the international level and Zimbabwean Communities. In keeping with the standards of this status, we are aware that the ZHRC Act is undergoing amendment. We encourage that the amendments remain in conformity with the Paris Principles to strengthen the argument for continuation of an ‘A’ Status as Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) reviews the status of ZHRC. We congratulate the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) on having a strong ZHRC that currently is the chair of the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) a regional network with a membership of 46 African countries whose vision is and African continent with enhanced human rights and justice for all.

Every year on the 10th of December, we commemorate the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document that proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being.

This year our commemorations will mark the commencement of a yearlong campaign leading up to the 75th anniversary in 2023 to showcase the legacy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to guarantee human rights around the world. The UDHR is as relevant today as it was in 1948 and remains central to  of dignity and equality of rights for all people, which is a critical component for sustainable human development and the achievement of the SDGs.

I am gratified to note that Zimbabwe has made significant progress in complying with its human rights reporting obligations arising from the various international and regional treaties to which it is a party. This year Zimbabwe participated in the third cycle of the UPR and accepted 168 and noted 96 of the 264 recommendations made by member states. The UPR is an important tool for implementation of accepted recommendations and translating human rights from the clauses of the various conventions into lived realities for the people of Zimbabwe.

10 December also marks the culmination of the global campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. This is not a coincidence but a reminder that gender-based violence is a human rights violation. Unfortunately, 1 in 3 women and girls experience violence in their lifetime.

Following the Anna Machaya case, UNDP partnered with the Zimbabwe Gender Commission to conduct the National Inquiry on child marriages and sexual exploitation of young women and girls including those with disabilities. A total of 283 survivors of child marriages were interviewed, with 2470 community interactions conducted in all the ten provinces of Zimbabwe. Following the inquiry more cases have come to the fore: examples include the cases of the pregnant 9-year-old girls which were in the media, indicating an increase in cases reported but also that there is more that needs to be done.

The UNDP acknowledges the strides made by the ZHRC through its outreach and awareness campaigns and the mobile human rights clinics that facilitate the intake of child marriages and SGBV complaints from communities. We also note the referral mechanisms and collaboration in investigations between the ZHRC, the ZGC and partner civil society partners in handling the received complaints to ensure no one is left behind.

Ending GBV is in the National Development Strategy 1 and various mechanisms and policies are in place to support this cause. The passing of the Marriages Act which clearly outlaws child marriages and the proposed amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act) proposes a 15-year minimum mandatory sentence as well as the development of a sexual offenders’ register. There is need for more advocacy, education and awareness raising among different stakeholders to ensure the policies in place are implemented.

We applaud this multi-stakeholder approach Zimbabwe is taking to end child marriage, harmful cultural practices and violence against women and girls. Indeed we need all hands on deck in this fight.

Currently, the biggest global threat to human rights is the triple planetary crisis which poses a serious risk to the fundamental rights to life, health, food and an adequate standard of living affecting individuals, marginalized groups and communities. Allow me to quote the words of Achim Steiner who said:

'Multiple crises relating to climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity & ecosystem loss and pollution are directly impacting the full enjoyment of human rights, increasing inequality and jeopardizing the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This past week, the ZHRC, undertook a mission to engage the communities in Hwange on the underground coal seam fires and their impact on the rights of the communities living in the mining areas. This focus by the ZHRC on environmental rights resonates well with the historic resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on 28 July 2022 that gives universal recognition to the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment (R2HE).

The UNDP will continue to support the GoZ in policy formulation and legislative review for the fulfilment of human rights and protection of the environment. It is anticipated that these laws and policies will address environmental crimes which pose a grave threat to citizens.  A human rights-based approach to environmental management can contribute to increasing livelihood options of local communities and alternative sources of energy to reduce deforestation and key threats to wildlife and habitat.

As I conclude I would like to leave you with a message from the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterrez,

“… put human rights at the heart of efforts to reverse today’s damaging trends. Human rights are the foundation for human dignity, and the cornerstone of peaceful, inclusive, fair, equal and prosperous societies.  They are a unifying force and a rallying cry.  They reflect the most fundamental thing we share – our common humanity. On this Human Rights Day, we reaffirm the universality and indivisibility of all rights, as we stand up for human rights for all.”

On this day, we thank the ZHRC, human rights defenders and CSOs, the women’s rights movement, faith-based organizations, the advocates for vulnerable groups and indeed, everyone who is standing up for Human Rights for your commitment, your passion and your perseverance.

I thank you.