A NOVEMBER 2015 Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) and Chitungwiza Residents Trust (CHITREST) survey revealed worryingly levels of indifference by Zimbabweans over their rights.
The survey, launched recently and undertaken to ascertain the levels of human rights knowledge among Chitungwiza residents, was carried out to identify basic challenges with regards to the enjoyment of socio-economic rights; ascertain the knowledge and perceptions towards the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC); and its capacity to carry out its constitutional mandate with emphasis on the commission’s complaints handling mechanism.
ZHRC is mandated to promote, protect and enforce human rights in Zimbabwe.
Survey findings showed that 55 percent of Chitungwiza residents had a “fair” knowledge of the constitution of Zimbabwe. Males (75 percent) were more knowledgeable when compared to their female (66 percent) counterparts.
“Unfortunately, this knowledge does not directly translate to acquaintance with socio-economic and political rights as provided in Chapter 4 of the Constitution,” ZDI said.
Less than half (40 percent) of the study respondents were aware of the existence of ZHRC, while six in 10 (60 percent) stated that they had never heard about it.
ZHRC’s Erick Mukutiri said, according to the commission’s own research, the figures were significantly lower in some areas.
“I am surprised that 40 percent of Chitungwiza residents know about the commission because according to our findings in some districts the figures are as low as 15 or even 11 percent,” Mukutiri said.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) director, Irene Petras, said it should be noted that the human rights commission was still relatively in its infancy.
“The commission has not been in existence for a very long time, so I am not very surprised that people do not know about it. But I think more can be done using radio and other media and even outreaches by the commission itself and also by civil society to talk about what they do and how people can get hold of them if they have issues to raise,” she said.
Just over half of the people sampled by ZDI believe that human rights knowledge makes a difference as expressed by 55 percent of the respondents who said so. Twenty-one percent said it did not make any difference, while 24 percent expressed ignorance over the matter.
“The idea of human rights is spoken about a lot, but not many people have ever questioned what it really is. Unfortunately, there is high level of ignorance, specifically about socio-economic rights by the people who are supposed to benefit from those rights. Many people know they have rights, but not what these rights are, how they came about, how they can access and enjoy them and what impact not having those rights would have,” ZDI pointed out.
Those who managed to explain what human rights were did so unequivocally, but still missed the aspect of economic, social and cultural rights by a wide margin, according to the researchers.
“It is appalling given the rate at which Chitungwiza is experiencing burst sewer pipes, struggling with uncollected garbage and poor infrastructure that none of the respondents alluded to economic social and cultural rights. Rather, they exhibited greater knowledge of civil and political rights,” the public policy think-tank said.
While some expressed little knowledge and others no knowledge at all, some were quick to dismiss the existence of human rights in Zimbabwe.
“Let’s not talk about the issue of human rights in this country because they are non-existent,” one of the respondents said.
“It is disturbing that people don’t bother to know about their rights because they don’t believe that the system protects them,” Mukutiri said.
Petras felt that the commission should be tested.
“Send your complaints, allow them to deal with them. If they don’t, then we can be able to say that the commission is not functioning. If we don’t test them, then we cannot just make a decision that they are not doing anything,” she said.
Another interesting take from the study was that of the 40 percent that is alive to the existence of the ZHRC, most respondents did not know the commission’s complaint mechanism. Another huge number had never forwarded a complaint to the commission. Thirty percent were aware of the promotion function, 34 percent protection, 22 percent advising government and Parliament, 33 percent monitoring and 25 percent coordination and cooperation.
Last year, ZHRC and ZLHR signed a memorandum of understanding in which they committed to working together by referring, receiving, and dealing with cases and sharing knowledge and expertise on human rights, and cooperating on identified thematic issues in order to achieve the goal of promoting, protecting and enforcing human rights.
During the signing ceremony, ZHRC chairperson, Elasto Mugwadi, admitted that his organisation had a number of limitations.
“We are an institution with a huge mandate, but we can’t be everywhere in the country because of the current constraints the country is facing,” Mugwadi noted.
Follow us on Twitter on @FingazLive and on Facebook – The Financial Gazette