Archive | July, 2014

The healing and reconciliation process in Zimbabwe cannot just be about the law!

24 Jul

The Zimbabwe government has been working on a process to set up a National Peace and Reconciliation Commission for obvious reasons which do not need further elaboration. A very necessary and overdue process which I am beginning to think is being started on false support structures. I will draw attention to one peculiar clause to the provisions setting up the commission – the one that requires the Chairperson to be someone who has been a legal practitioner for at least seven years in Zimbabwe. I find this clause/provision problematic in certain ways.

The national healing and reconciliation agenda in Zimbabwe cannot just be a legal matter. Unless if the proposed Commission is a legal court of sorts then there is absolutely no reason the Chairperson has to be someone with a legal background. There are so many aspects to the past human rights violations that have been committed in Zimbabwe which span across economic, political, social and legal matters.

Unless, if there are specific reasons which should be made clear in the enabling provisions to this Commission, anyone with a clear, sober and mature mind possessing psychology, religious, economic, political, medical, traditional leadership qualifications etc. should be able to lead the Commission. Any argument that legal matters will be brought up in the cases before the Commission is rather limiting and patronizing. If for any reason there will be need to interpret legal issues, the Commission must have provisions and systems in place that either some of its members or members of its Secretariat in the Legal Division have those qualifications and capabilities to advise the rest of the Commission.

In any case, 1) how many lawyers do we have in Zimbabwe 2) How many of those have the 7 years experience 3) how many of them posess the leadership skills to chair such a Commission 4) How many would be willing to work for the Commission even? Given all this and many more questions – the position by the government becomes rather short – sighted.

Different countries have approached these Commissions differently and the members or Chairpersons have not necessarily been lawyers or citizens from that country. Knowing Zimbabwe, issues of sovereignty and national pride will obviously kick in when it comes to foreign Commissioners. Any attempts to bring in foreigners especially whites will be vehemently discouraged. In the end though, what should matter is the expertise the different men and women who will sit in the Commission will bring to the table. It would have been more beneficial however, to have the Commission composed even of foreign nationals with the requisite economic, historical, and political and other relevant backgrounds.

There cannot be a false assumption that transitional justice matters are purely legalistic. Zimbabwe should not fall into the trap of solving every other national problem by the legal route. By imposing that the Chairperson has a legal background, the Zimbabwe government is falsely assuming that all matters reconciliation and healing have to be dealt with in a legal manner. There must be a very clear and logical explanation to the position of having the Chairperson being from the legal fraternity. I do not have anything against the legal profession in Zimbabwe and in general but Zimbabwe’s past problems cannot be solved by relegating all else to the law. Of course it will be necessary that all determinations/judgments made by this Commission be protected under Zimbabwean law but it doesn’t necessarily mean that lawyers have to have the final say. (if the directive be that the Chairperson has to have a legal background).

The drafters of these provisions most probably consulted a lot but I’m sure also missed a crucial point that the Chairperson of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission does not have to have a legal background for him or her to diligently exercise their duty. Unless, if this Chairperson will have some other unspecified roles which require legal training, the position should be given to any other qualifying Zimbabwean.

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