Annual National Symposium on Declaration of Rights Held in Zimbabwe

On 8-9 November 2017, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute (RWI), in cooperation with Africa University (AU), Great Zimbabwe University (GZU), Midlands State University (MSU) and the Centre for Applied Legal Research (CALR), facilitated the 2017 National Symposium on the Promise of the Declaration of Rights under the Constitution of Zimbabwe, at Cresta Lodge (Sango Conference Centre), Harare, Zimbabwe.

We sat down with Programme Officer Timothy Maldoon, responsible for the academic cooperation activities under the Zimbabwe Human Rights Capacity Development Programme 2016-2018, to find out more.

What is the National Symposium?

The National Symposium is a yearly event and the culmination of the academic cooperation activities under the Zimbabwe Human Rights Capacity Development Programme 2016-2018. The event is financed by Swedish Development Cooperation and organised by the RWI, in cooperation with its partners under the Programme.

The overall purpose of the National Symposium is to enhance the space for academia, independent research centres, civil society organisations, independent commissions, traditional leaders and government institutions in Zimbabwe to constructively engage with each other on key human rights reform issues, including regarding human rights of women and gender equality.

How many participants attended the National Symposium?

human rights zimbabweThis year 57 participants, representing diverse sectors of Zimbabwean society, attended the event. To name just a few participants besides our partners, who represented academia and independent research centres, we had the participation of independent commissions (such as the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, Zimbabwe Gender Commission and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission), civil society organisations (such as Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, Human Rights NGO Forum, Legal Resources Foundation, International Commission of Jurists, etc.), government institutions (such as Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services, Ministry of Health and Child Care, Ministry of Justice, etc.) and traditional leadership (Zimbabwe Council of Chiefs).

What was the content of this year’s National Symposium?

Following the opening remarks by H.E. Ambassador of Sweden to the Republic of Zimbabwe Sofia Calltorp, which touched upon the Swedish values of human rights and rule of law, and presentations from the partners on the cooperation under the Programme, the event featured presentations of six research papers from the 2017 research grant recipients, each dealing with crucial human rights reform issues.

The presentations expanded upon the following topics:

  • the enforcement and litigation of human rights in Zimbabwe
  • inclusive education and the rights of persons with disabilities
  • the abolition of corporal punishment in Zimbabwe
  • the role of traditional leadership and customary law under sui generis systems of intellectual property rights in traditional knowledge
  • foreign investment, indigenous communities and the constitutional protection of property rights in Zimbabwe’s mining sector

At the end of each day, panel debates were held with experts in the field. The panel on day one focused on the way forwards as regards gender equality in Zimbabwe and was composed of representatives from the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, ZimRights and Southern and East African Regional Centre for Women’s Law. The panel concluded with the chairperson from the Gender Commission voicing a call for action from all in the room and specifically asking for female, but also male, champions to push the cause further. The panel also addressed the issue of persons managing multiple disadvantages, e.g. being visually impaired and at the same time a woman. The panel on day two was equally enriching. It was composed of all the 2017 research grant recipients relaying their final reflections on the “Promise of the Declaration of Rights under the Constitution of Zimbabwe”, either in relation to their own research projects or in general. The presentations were though provoking, and the panellists were especially passionate when discussions led to a debate on the meaning of the word “promise” in the title of the symposium.

What did you personally take with you from the National Symposium?

I would have to say that most notable is the dedication of the partners and participants to making this year’s National Symposium the success I believe it truly was. There was indeed an atmosphere of hope in the room among all involved, and what I truly believe is a deep seated want for the promises made in the Constitution to ring true.

Also, while the presentations and panels were indeed important, equally crucial were the networks formed and discussions that took place during the tea and coffee breaks and dinner reception. It is this type of human interaction that can further enhance the space for and realisation of human rights in Zimbabwe.

Lastly, I will be asking RWI to supply me with some business cards in braille! As the chairperson of the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped so rightfully expressed in connection to the Q&A following the research presentation on disability rights: “How many of you in the room are carrying business cards in braille?”

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