The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) is disturbed by the lack of transparency with regards to public hearings pertaining to the Commission of Inquiry Investigating the 2018 Post-Election Violence.
Lack of Sufficient Information
The Commission advertised and invited stakeholders to attend the public hearings on post-election violence. Their advert on ZTV only indicated the venue, the dates for the public hearings and the starting time given was 0930hrs. Some journalists, members of the public and Civil Society representatives were at Cresta Lodge by 8am on the 16th of October 2018 for the hearings only to receive informal communication from hotel staff that the hearings would commence at 11:00am. At 11:00am, the hearings had not started.
The Forum is disappointed at the realisation that, initially only the state media Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation was allowed to broadcast the proceedings from the Commission of Inquiry. Private media was only allowed inside after they protested against that decision. This goes to the heart of the credibility of the commission and the impartiality of the process, given the well-known partisan nature of the state-controlled media.
The conference room in which the public hearings are being conducted has a capacity to accommodate 50 people only. In view of the nature of the inquiry, the effect on the general populace, the seriousness of the issue and general interest the work of the Commission is likely to generate, the Commission should have made adequate arrangements for a suitable and accessible venue. This is especially important in the light of the wide, live coverage of the events that the Commission must address, and the importance of the circumstances during which the alleged violations took place.
Criteria on the Call for Evidence
The Forum is further concerned by the apparent lack of transparency into who will give evidence before the Commission and the criteria used in the selection of such witnesses. A multitude of citizens were witnesses to the events leading to the 1st of August 2018 violence and wish to give evidence to the Commission. Failure to inform the public of the criteria by which witnesses were selected increases the risk of the Commission losing credibility. Members of this Commission are no strangers to the stringent conditions that usually apply to inquiries into gross human rights violations and we would expect them to exercise their experience and authority over the procedures that govern testimonies. The Commission has an obligation to perform its functions credibly and bring closure to the 1st of August 2018 violence.
The Credibility of the Secretariat
It is crucial that the Commission directs and controls the Secretariat, for this relationship goes to heart of the confidence that can be placed in the findings of the Commission, Here, in the deeply polarised society that is Zimbabwe, and evidenced by the disputed election to which the events that are the context of the Commission’s mandate, it is incumbent upon the Commission that its Secretariat be above reproach on the grounds of impartiality. The beginnings of the inquiry have done little to suggest that the Commission has taken this to heart.
This has been a distressing start to the Commission’s public work, and suggests that there is need for urgent action if the Commission will remain credible.
The Forum therefore calls upon the Commission to:
1. Establish a space that is open to the public, the press and the media in which the proceedings can be widely witnessed;
2. Reassure the public of the Commission’s impartiality through a full accounting of all persons under the Commission’s direct control, including the Secretariat;
3. Publish the criteria under which witnesses may give evidence, and the conditions under which witnesses may seek the protection of the Commission;
4. Publish the commission’s operational procedures and standards.
5. Make clear that the findings of the Commission will be made public, and make recommendations to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission about the next legal steps to be taken in order that the events that are the subject of the inquiry may be dealt with according to the Constitution and Zimbabwean law.