Strengthening the Capacity of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to address elections-related human rights issues: Reflections on the recently concluded Refresher Course on Elections

The internal capacity building workshop on elections and human rights for the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission staff, under the EU funded “Support to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Project”, was held from 18 to 20 October 2022 at Cresta Lodge Msasa, Harare. The workshop brought together 24 participants (18 officers from the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission being the target beneficiaries of the training and are responsible for human rights investigations and monitoring), including the facilitators, the resource persons and RWI, Harare staff.

The overall objective of the workshop was to build and strengthen the capacity of the ZHRC to discharge its mandate of promoting and protecting human rights in Zimbabwe with a focus on redressing elections-related human rights violations that are usually associated with electoral contests.

The capacity building workshop was held at an opportune time when the ZHRC had just reviewed and updated its Elections Strategy for 2022-2025, which outlines its strategic goals, action plans, and activities/interventions in electoral processes in the country. In view of the Commission’s human rights mandate and the forthcoming general elections to be held in 2023, it was necessary to hold this workshop as part of the continuous efforts towards building and strengthening the capacities of the new staff as well as the old staff members involved in human rights monitoring and investigations to acquaint them with the ZHRC Election Strategy, the principles and standards regarding free and fair elections, and on election monitoring, the electoral cycle, and the practice of monitoring elections amongst others.

The packed two and half days programme kicked off with self-introductions by participants, followed by some remarks by Mikael Johansson, the RWI Director Harare, and Mrs. Delis Mazambani, the ZHRC Executive Secretary. Mr. Johansson briefly explained the background and objectives of RWI programmes in Zimbabwe while Mrs  Mazambani stressed the importance of elections in the building and practicing of democracy as envisaged in Section 1 of the Zimbabwe Constitution and emphasised the role of the ZHRC in elections On his part, Innocent Mawire explained in detail the work of the RWI in Zimbabwe which dates back to 1992, highlighting the broad thematic areas of RWI, modalities of implementation and outlined an array of initiatives that have been done by the Institute in cooperation with local partners.

Highlights of the Key presentations and emerging issues

Role of NHRIs in the Election Periods

The regional expert from Uganda, Mr. Aliro Omara of the Uganda Human Rights Centre, largely facilitated the workshop together with a representative from the ZHRC. The regional expert’s presentation on the “Role of National Human Rights Institutions in Elections Periods” set the tone for the workshop.

The presentation explained the legal basis for the role of NHRIs in elections noting that typically the election process cannot be free and fair if human rights such as the freedom of association, assembly, expression, opinion, and movement are not enjoyed by participants and stakeholders in elections. Elections are about the protection of the right to participate in public affairs. The Zimbabwe Constitution and the Election Act recognize this and have specifically granted the ZHRC the duty to monitor and observe elections in the country.

The presentation highlighted a number of challenging issues related to elections that require the attention of national human rights institutions because they adversely affect the enjoyment of the right to participate in public affairs. It was emphasized that NHRIs should adopt and apply the electoral cycle approach because this affords them a wider perspective of the human rights and integrity issues they have to consider and address in the electoral process/cycle.

It was further pointed out that the role of NHRIs in elections has various interacting elements that should inform their election strategy roles: In the pre-election period, NHRIs have a research role that involves identifying gaps in legal, policy, and administration of elections, advisory roles- liaising with key stakeholders to influence change, monitoring role on campaigns, independence of EMB and access to media, Civic and Human Rights Education- raising awareness, Complaints handling and engaging in measures for preventing election-related violence. On Election Day, NHRIs have monitoring, complaints handling and investigations, and conflict prevention roles. Post-polling, period, the NHRIs have monitoring, reporting, advisory, dialogue facilitation, and prevention of violence roles in elections.

The Emerging Issues from the Discussion:

  1. The ZHRC has monitoring and observation roles: while both are often used interchangeably, election observation is often about onsite fact-finding regarding happenings during an election process and tends to concentrate on polling day. Monitoring is a wider concept that includes observation as one of the methods and entails collecting and addressing issues of human rights violations during the whole electoral cycle.
  2. Capacity challenges: ZHRC does not have the capacity to fully monitor and observe elections. It was suggested that ZHRC should prioritize the issues to monitor based on a pre-analysis of the election and political, social, and economic environment of the country. Monitoring can then focus on important issues that may affect the election. For example, ZHRC should establish strong networks and deploy monitors to focus on specific issues likely to affect the election e.g., conflict hotspots.

Presentation by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC)

The presentation, delivered by Mr. Blessing Dzova, a training officer from ZEC explained the functions of ZEC and other Chapter 12 Constitutional independent commissions on electoral processes. The Commissions are the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC); Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC); Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC); and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC). He pointed out that all these commissions have roles to play in the electoral process in line with their functions and mandate. He noted that some of the functions of these commissions, regarding elections, overlap or are crosscutting.

Mr. Dzova also made presentations on the electoral processes in Zimbabwe and the role of ZHRC in the delimitation of electoral boundaries. From the ensuing discussions, the following were the emerging issues:

  1. Lack of cooperation between the Chapter 12 Constitutional Commissions: Whereas some of the functions of these Commissions regarding elections overlap or are crosscutting, it emerged that the Commissions approach their work separately with the result that each of them ends up doing the same thing on the ground that they are independent institutions. It was recommended that the ZHRC should strongly consider implementing joint programs with these Commissions where their roles in elections overlap with that of the ZHRC.
  2. Election processes are legal and not necessarily logical: As explained by Mr. Dzova, elections are expected to be conducted in accordance with the law and therefore any weaknesses in the law must always be corrected. The ZHRC, applying its monitoring and advisory has the duty to analyse the legal framework for elections and advocate for improvement where they find legal gaps and or weaknesses.
  3. Role of ZHRC in the delimitation of constituency boundaries: It emerged from the presentation that the demarcation of constituency boundaries including that of polling stations before the 2023 general elections is likely to be controversial. The role of the ZHRC in the process was highlighted as ensuring the equality of votes by monitoring if constituencies have as near as possible equal number of voters; ensuring that people who live together in a locality and with common social, cultural, and economic interests are not divided into separate constituencies; and that there is no politically motivated gerrymandering of constituencies. It was noted however that the ZHRC may not have the expertise to monitor the ongoing demarcation of constituencies. Accordingly, it was recommended that ZHRC consider sourcing funds to commission a consultant to urgently undertake the work.

Human Rights and Elections: An Overview of International Legal Architecture

The RWI thematic expert, Mr. Morten Koch Andersen, delivered another key presentation that examined the international legal architecture for human rights and elections. He explained the nexus between human rights and elections and the international legal frameworks that set the principles and standards for free and fair elections. He further highlighted why elections are held and explained that they facilitate the enjoyment of a number of rights such as the right to participate in the affairs of the State.  Elections that are genuine and credible empower the people to express their will and provide an imperative way by which people can have a voice in their governance. He stressed that human rights such as freedom of expression, opinion, association, peaceful assembly, the right to information, and the right to effective remedy serve to ensure a safe environment for elections if they are strictly respected.

The expert further explained that the right to participate in public affairs which is the basis for holding elections should not be limited arbitrarily. Limitations, for example, should not be based on economic, or property status. It is also discriminatory to exclude naturalized citizens and citizens who are not domestic residents or base voting qualifications on literacy.

Emerging Issues from the Discussion

  1. The question of discrimination against displaced persons: Concern was raised about the risk that displaced persons in the country may miss out on voter registration. They are required to be registered in their pre-displacement place of abode or should maintain their old polling stations.
  2. The question of discrimination against prisoners and citizens living in the diaspora. Currently, they are not allowed to vote. Yet the diaspora citizens contribute a lot to the economy. Non-residency and imprisonment are not legitimate grounds for disqualifying citizens from voting.

Presentation: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)

The wide-ranging presentation was delivered by Mr. Ian Goredema, covering ZESN experience tools and gadgets to use in election monitoring. ZESN has a rich experience in elections monitoring and observation dating back to 2000 when it was formed and has been monitoring all the elections in Zimbabwe since then with the objective of promoting the democratic practice in the country.

Mr. Goredema stressed the importance of training for election monitors and observers, especially on the legal framework and the human rights required for free and fair elections as these are critical guides for observers of elections. He also identified inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability as some of the essential principles to judge the credibility of an election. Adherence to the rule of law, human rights associated with the right to participate in public affairs, and the absence of threats, intimidation, and violence underpin the credibility of an election.

In its 22 years of experience monitoring elections, ZESN has identified several challenges in monitoring elections and these include:  the cost of accreditation and deployment of long-term observers; the risks observers and the organization are confronted with. Election monitoring is politically sensitive; the political environment in Zimbabwe is always tense, and controversial and tends to be marred with violence and, therefore, compound the risks that confront observers and monitors.

The ZESN presentation emphasized the need for the ZHRC to monitor electoral processes and the human rights situation in the country during the pre-elections, polling, and post-polling periods. He pointed out the crucial role ZHRC should play in bridging the electoral information gap, through civic education, and publications of materials as well as its reports and statements on elections. It is good practice if ZHRC can monitor/observe and report on all stages of the electoral process which calls for ZHRC deploying long-term and short-term monitors/observers. Deployment of long-term monitors especially in electoral violence hotspots can serve to deter politically or election-motivated violence.

ZESN also presented on the importance of tools and gadgets to be used during the electoral cycle. He emphasized the importance of using simple tools that are easy to interpret and these can consist of a checklist that is used by all monitors/observers to record findings and compile reports. He also noted that when choosing gadgets for the field ZHRC should minimize costs by using readily available gadgets like personal smartphones.

The emerging issues from these presentations were:

  1. The need for ZHRC and its monitors to interface with ZEC, the police, political parties, the multiparty Liaison Committee dispute resolution mechanism, Civil Society Organizations, and the electorate of the area being monitored/observed.
  2. The importance of ZHRC paying special attention to the importance of its monitoring role in the prevention of politically and election-motivated violence. In that connection, ZHRC should work closely with the NPRC.
  3. ZHRC should, on its own initiative, investigate and resolve election-related violations of human rights.

ZHRC Election Monitoring Mandate and Functions

Mr. Misheck Bulo, from the ZHRC, gave a presentation on the election monitoring mandate of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission. He highlighted that the ZHRC has the constitutional mandate to promote, protect and enforce human rights in Zimbabwe. Section 243 (1) (c) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, 2013, empowers the Commission to monitor, assess and ensure observance of human rights and freedoms. This function is inclusive of promoting the right to free and fair elections as provided for in the Constitution and the Electoral Act, [Chapter 2:13]. The ZHRC monitors the general human rights environment surrounding the election using ZHRC monitoring tools it has developed. Pre-election the Commission has monitored: voter registration and inspection of voters register; role out of civic education; freedom to campaign and access the media particularly by opposition parties; freedom of assembly and participation; monitors human rights violations and receives and investigates related complaints.

To date, ZHRC has monitored and observed two general elections (2013 & 2018) and more than 30 By-Elections in different wards all over the country. The key findings from these election monitoring have shown: Improved accessibility of polling stations; Vote buying is still an issue; Traditional leaders continue to meddle in politics contrary to the law; Political violence continues to be an issue of great concern; Women and youth participation continues to be poor; Number of assisted voters is still very high suggesting the likelihood of connivance.

Emerging Issues from the Discussion

  1. Political violence: Advocate for improvement of the provisions of the legal framework.
  2. Institute long-term monitoring strategy which adopts an electoral cycle approach.
  3. Need to institute programs that build civic competence of the electorate as a pre-election activity.

Handling Complaints and Investigations in Elections Monitoring and Dispute Resolution Mechanism

Ms. Catherine Manjengwa, a human rights officer with ZHRC, made a presentation explaining the role of Complaints Handling and Investigations Department in election monitoring and dispute resolution. She explained that the Department receives and investigates complaints of human rights violations and maladministration in the electoral process from the pre-polling, to the polling, and post-polling periods. Complaints of a criminal nature are referred to the police for investigation. She pointed out that most of the complaints received during the electoral period include vote buying (in the form of distribution of farm inputs and food distribution), intimidation of voters, and defacing and removal of candidates’ posters.

She further pointed out the challenges met by the Commission in investigating election-related complaints because of reasons that, include lack of cooperation from hostile witnesses and respondents, complainants not substantiating their allegations, and slow finalization of complaints referred to the police.

The following were some of the issues that emerged from the discussion that followed the presentation:

  1. The ZHRC should develop a strategy to follow up on cases referred to the police with the aim of ensuring their speedy finalization.
  2. The ZHRC should do more of its own initiative investigations on election-related violations.
  3. ZHRC should use more administrative approaches to resolve the kind of complaints that require immediate resolution for the purpose of the election.
  4. ZHRC should consider a public inquiry into complaints that recur in every election.

Key Provisions of the ZHRC Electoral Strategy

The presentation by Ms. Delis Mazambani, the ZHRC Executive Secretary, gave an overview of the recently updated ZHRC Elections Strategy, 2022-2025. The objectives of the Strategy are to: Assess the observance of human rights and freedoms during elections; to contribute to a peaceful environment for elections in Zimbabwe. The Strategy adopts a rights-based approach and seeks to intervene in election-related matters that can be identified pre-election, during elections, and post-elections.

Mrs. Mazambani pointed out that the ZHRC electoral strategy has 6 goals with different objectives suitable for the three different stages of the electoral cycle and cross-cutting themes. The goals are: to strengthen the observance of and compliance with human rights by duty-bearers during the electoral process; to promote informed citizen participation in the electoral process; to strengthen redress mechanisms for election-related human rights violations; to enhance the realization of citizens’ rights to administrative justice and effective remedies during the electoral process; to recommend legislative and other measures for the promotion, protection, and enforcement of human rights during the electoral process; and to increase stakeholder engagement and collaboration on human rights and administrative justice during the electoral process.

Election Monitoring Tools for Prevention of Violence

Mr. Morten Koch Andersen from RWI made a presentation on the Election Monitoring Tools for the prevention of violence. He explained that in elections, there are groups that are vulnerable during the electoral period. These groups include migrants, minority groups, people with disabilities, journalists, human rights activists, and indigenous groups with women from these groups being twice as vulnerable.

Mr. Andersen stressed that there are usually heightened risks during peak electoral periods and this often triggers arbitrary arrests. He pointed out three types of information misuse that can negatively impact the electoral process. These are misinformation which is false information not created to deliberately cause harm, disinformation which is false information deliberately created and shared to cause harm, and mal-information which is information based on the truth that is twisted to cause harm. He also emphasized the importance of electoral security, promotion of dialogue, and civic education in the prevention of violence in the electoral process.

The emerging issues from the presentation were the following:

  1. Human rights institutions tend to be reactive rather than proactive in their work and therefore tend to address human rights issues after violations have occurred to support or provide remedies to victims. To contribute to the prevention of electoral-related violence, ZHRC should play a proactive role by taking measures that forestall the escalation of issues that can result in violence. Such measures can include educating stakeholders, facilitating the establishment of forums/infrastructures for dialogue and peace cultivation, early deployment of monitors at identified hotspots, and civic education.
  2. Assessing the legal framework for elections and advocating for the improvement of the provisions that are contentious and cause controversy.
  3. Need to train the police on rights-based election policing.

Presentation of ZHRC tools

Mr. Bulo presented the ZHRC election tools which included the Primary elections tool, political rally tool, polling day tool, and post-polling day tool. The tools included guiding themes for observers and monitors in the field to check for uniformity in the reporting structure. He noted that reports were to be compiled at the provincial level before being consolidated into a full report.

The emerging issue from this presentation was:

  1. The tools aim to capture violations that take place during the elections. Since the Commission monitors human rights violations or observances, the tools should use language that reflects human rights nomenclature.

Conclusion

The refresher course on elections was a huge success as it provided an opportunity for the ZHRC staff to update their knowledge and skills regarding human rights promotion and protection during elections periods. More importantly, the workshop also provided a platform for formal dialogue between the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission as well as the Zimbabwe Election Support Network regarding human rights promotion and protection during election periods and how the organisations should cooperate and engage one another to ensure the observance of human rights throughout the electoral cycle. Overall, this workshop was in line with, and contributed to the broader goals and strategic objectives of the RWI’s ongoing human rights capacity development Programme in Zimbabwe.

 

Learn more, get in touch:

Innocent Mawire

Innocent Mawire

Programme Officer, RWI-Harare, Zimbababwe Focal Point for BHR

E-mail: innocent.mawire@rwi.lu.se

Innocent Mawire, is a lawyer by profession, and has acquired extensive experience on public sector and human rights matters in Zimbabwe spanning more than a decade. He holds a Bachelor of Laws (Hons.) Degree from the University of Zimbabwe (2005) and is also a graduate of the Master’s degree in International Human Rights Law from Lund University, Sweden (2019). Before his studies in Lund Innocent worked at the Department for Policy and Legal Research at the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs in Zimbabwe, where he, inter alia, served in the secretariat of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and the secretariat of the Universal Period Review National Steering Committee. Further, Innocent served as the Ministry of Justice representative on the Governance and Institution Building Thematic Cluster under the Resumed 11th Round of the European Development Fund as well as the Focal Point in the Department’s Intellectual Property Unit where he led the processes towards the development of Zimbabwe’s first ever National IP Policy and Strategy Framework, including Zimbabwe’s accession to the WIPO Madrid Protocol for the International Registration Mark (1989).

Innocent also served as the Secretary to the Council for Legal Education and was instrumental in the establishment of the Faculties of Law’s inaugural LLB degrees at Great Zimbabwe University and the Zimbabwe Ezekiel Guti University.  Most recently, Innocent is coming from the UNDP Zimbabwe Country Office, where he served as National Public Sector Reform Officer within the Governance and Peace Building Unit providing technical support to capacity development initiatives to the Tripartite Partners of the Public Service Commission, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and the Office of the President and Cabinet.

 

 

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