PVO Bill, Gukurahundi controversy at UN summit
THE contentious Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill and the 1980s Gukurahundi massacres hogged the limelight at the just-ended United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) summit.
The meeting was held in Geneva, Switzerland, in the past three weeks. The summit issued its report on Zimbabwe and other state parties on 30 August.
The world body’s ICERD special committee issued far-reaching recommendations on the way forward for troubled Zimbabwe after expressing grave concerns on the situation obtaining in the country.
The effect of the UN’s concerns on the PVO Bill and the Gukurahundi genocide is diplomatic embarrassment for the Harare administration desperate to end its pariah state tag and re-join the international community of nations.
The PVO Bill, which is being pushed by President Mnangagwa’s administration in Parliament, seeks to provide the government with unfettered discretionary power to over-regulate and interfere in non-governmental organisations’ governance and operations.
Some of its provisions will arm the government with unchecked power to designate any PVO as “high risk” or “vulnerable” to terrorism abuse, thereby enabling the authorities to revoke a PVO’s registration and remove or replace its leadership. In addition to monitoring the funding of NGOs, the Bill seeks to ensure that PVOs are required to receive approval from the government for any “material change”, including changes to its management and internal constitution.
However, under section 15 of the UN ICERD’s committee report on Zimbabwe, the world body said it is concerned about the proposed law as it will hinder the work of civil society organisations. “The Committee is concerned that legislation currently proposed in the state party (the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill) would impact further the ability of human rights defenders and civil society organisations to pursue their activities independently and would increase their risk of facing reprisals, intimidation, or interference.
“The committee recommends that the state party put in place specific measures, including legislative, to ensure that human rights defenders and civil society organisations, including those working on issues related to racial discrimination, are able to carry out their work effectively and without fear of reprisals,” said the UN special committee.
Turning to the Gukurahundi atrocities, the UN special committee said it noted with concern that the healing process has dragged on endlessly.
“While noting that a general amnesty was granted to perpetrators of the Gukurahundi atrocities, which resulted in the killing of around 20 000 largely Ndebele-speaking persons and other acts of violence in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces by Government forces in the 1980s,”
“. . . and that traditional leaders have been tasked with solving a number of related and unresolved practical matters, the committee is concerned by reports that the Gukurahundi atrocities remain a source of ethnic tension and that healing and closure for its victims is far from realised,” said the UN committee, adding: “The committee is also concerned by reports that many victims remain traumatised and that state agents hinder them and their relatives from engaging in mourning and commemorative activities. Furthermore, the committee is concerned that the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission is not fulfilling its constitutionally mandated responsibility to provide a platform for public truth telling about such events.”
The UN special committee in its recommendations on the Gukurahundi genocide said the Zimbabwean government must effectively bring closure to the killings.
“The committee recommends that the state party: (a) Carry out effective measures aimed at achieving reconciliation and healing for victims of the Gukurahundi atrocities, with victims consulted and participating in decisions on such activities, and that it provide rehabilitative treatment and support to all victims who need it; (b) Ensure that mourning and commemorative activities for victims can be conducted without restrictions or threats, and investigate reports that state agents have hindered such activities . . .”