By Fungi Kwaramba
HARARE – Ruling MDC parties and legal experts say perpetrators of the Gukurahundi genocide and 2008 poll violence will be arrested despite an amnesty clause in the Human Rights Commission Bill currently before Parliament.
There was outrage last week when the House of Assembly rubber-stamped the Bill, which limited the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to dealing with abuses committed after the formation of the coalition government in February 2009.
The commission will have no mandate to investigate cases that occurred before that period, effectively exonerating people accused of committing political atrocities in Zimbabwe’s troubled history. The Bill has been transmitted to Senate, where it is expected to sail through without problems.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said in an interview that justice will not spare Gukurahundi and 2008 killers. Asked by the Prime Minister’s Newsletter whether the murderers are now off the hook, Tsvangirai responded: “No, no, no, that is not true.”
“The ZHRC Bill which is currently before Parliament is talking about the future, about what is going to happen in the next elections and beyond. That is what it is dealing with,” said Tsvangirai. He was referring to the clause in the Bill limiting investigations to the period after February 13, 2009 the date when the coalition government came into effect.
This means that if the Bill finally sails through both houses of Parliament, the envisaged human rights commission would be barred from probing issues such as the 2008 political violence, the 2005 slum clearance drive dubbed Operation Murambatsvina and the emotive Gukurahundi massacres.
Justice and Legal Affairs minister and Zanu PF GPA negotiator Patrick Chinamasa, who steered the Bill through Parliament, said it was common practice in observing the rule of law that laws should not be applied in retrospect. “It is a cardinal principle of the rule of law and good governance that laws should not be applied in retrospect,” he said.
Tsvangirai, himself a victim of state sanctioned violence, said the coalition government will set aside a separate vehicle that will investigate the past rights violations which have bloated the country’s youthful history since 1980.
“We are going to set up another commission either through the Organ of National Healing and Reconciliation or a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which is already part of the constitutional proposals, so we have not ignored atrocities of the past,” said Tsvangirai.
The MDC led by Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube said the party was pushing for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that will look into political atrocities separately from the Human Rights Commission Bill which is set to be passed by Senate.
“We are working towards the formation of a commission that will deal with issues of violence so that perpetrators of the gross human rights violations are brought to book,” said the party’s director for policy Qhubani Moyo.
University of Zimbabwe lecturer and constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku said the Bill was unconstitutional.
“That is unconstitutional, they cannot pass a law like that,” Madhuku said. “Why discriminate people when the law says people should have equal treatment before the law? They should have kept their law secretly because you cannot establish a constitutional body that is not in line with the constitution. All people are supposed to be equally protected by the law so if you pass a law that discriminates, that is a breach of the constitution.”
Madhuku said there was nothing special about the establishment of the coalition government to preclude crimes that were committed before its inception. “Soldiers and police have also been there before the coalition government and they committed their crimes, they therefore should be tried,” said Madhuku.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said there is no way past crimes can be swept under the carpet in a country with an effective judiciary, prosecutorial authorities and also police.
“For the avoidance of any doubt, it must be clearly understood and stressed that crimes committed in the past remain crimes, whether or not a national human rights institution or other mechanism exists to deal with past human rights violations,” the rights group said in a statement.
“Government, political players and other perpetrators of violations must disabuse themselves of the notion that the creation of such mechanisms removes responsibility and punishment for such crimes.”
The MDC claims hundreds of its supporters were killed by Zanu PF activists in the run-up to the discredited 2008 presidential elections, while civil society groups claim 20 000 people from Midlands and Matabeleland regions were killed by soldiers during the Gukurahundi massacres.
President Robert Mugabe has defied calls to publicly apologise for the atrocities, but described the butchering of civilians as a “moment of madness” at former Vice President Joshua Nkomo’s funeral in 1999. Daily News