Human rights chief exposes regime

Report by Feluna Nleya

EX-ZIMBABWE Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) chairperson Reginald Austin, who recently quit his post in protest over unfavourable working conditions, has exposed government’s apparent lack of commitment to upholding human rights. 

The head of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) Professor Reginald Austin
The former head of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) Professor Reginald Austin

In an interview for the first time since his unexpected departure last month, Austin told NewsDay last week that the entire commission had for a long time been frustrated by the legal framework particularly the excessive powers of the Executive and the body’s lack of independence.

He said since their appointment, the commissioners had not been provided with resources to investigate and take action where human rights violations would have occurred.

“I believe my statement shows the long and on-going concerns of the commissioners with the legal framework, especially the power to silence the ZHRC. As the statement indicates, these concerns were repeatedly raised with the Ministry (of Justice and Legal Affairs), the MPs and various stakeholders,” he said.

“However, they — along with the ongoing delays regarding the commissioners’ conditions of service — were obviously not regarded as serious impediments to the commission’s long-term independence and integrity as I have personally judged them to be.”

Austin said an unnamed senior government official who briefed the commissioners on the commission’s situation in 2010 demoralised his team when he compared the new commission to a baby whose birth the parents had made no preparations for — “no nursery, no cot bed, no blankets and no baby food”.

He added: “In our case it was: no budget, no accommodation, no mobility, no staff and no implementing Act or corporate legal status.”

He bemoaned lack of material support and revealed that the commissioners had not been issued with letters of appointment while their terms and conditions of service had remained uncertain, including the issue of their being full or part-time officers.

Despite the challenges he encountered, Austin said with commitment from the government and if well resourced, the ZHRC could be built into an effective national human rights commission. NewsDay