LEGAL and parliamentary affairs watchdog Veritas has urged parliamentarians to reduce the effects of the Patriotic Act in the 10th Parliament, with the United Nations Human Rights Council calling out the draconian law for violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
In July, President Emmerson Mnangagwa controversially assented to amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which criminalises fundamental freedoms of association, assembly and speech of any citizen who holds meetings with foreign diplomats or any other foreigner.
The promulgation of Clause 2 of the amendment, also known as the “Patriotic Act”, has plunged the country into the dark days reminiscent of the oppressive Rhodesian colonial era.
This week, Veritas said Parliament should consider lessening the effects of amendments to the Act, which have been flagged by the rapporteurs for being inconsistent with the ICCPR.
Zimbabwe being a signatory to.the covenant, is bound to comply.
“With the opening of the Tenth Parliament of Zimbabwe due very soon, we ask that the new parliamentarians also consider ameliorating the Act. Any response from the government, the (UN) Rapporteurs said, would be made public. We await the government’s response with interest,” reads the analysis.
“The Rapporteurs looked at the new section 22A which the Act inserts in the Criminal Law Code and which creates the crime of “willfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe. Their comments, though couched in respectful diplomatic language, are highly critical. They find that the Act violates Zimbabwe’s obligations under international law.”
According to the letter by the rapporteurs to Mnangagwa, Clause 2 is inconsistent with several sections of the ICCPR.
“We refer your Excellency’s Government to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Zimbabwe acceded to on 13 May 1991, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),” reads the letter dated 16 August, by special rapporteurs Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Morris Tidball-Binz, Irene Khan and Mary Lawlor on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council.
“In particular, we would like to draw your Excellency’s Government’s attention to articles 6, 7, 9, 17, 19, 21, 22 and 25 of the ICCPR which guarantee, respectively, the right to life, that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the right to liberty and security of persons and to be free from arbitrary detention, the right to privacy, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the right to participate in public affairs.
“We would also specifically like to underline that the ‘principle of legal certainty’ under international law, enshrined in articles 9(1) and 15 of the ICCPR and article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), requires that criminal laws are sufficiently precise so it is clear what types of behaviour and conduct constitute a criminal offence and what would be the consequence of committing such an offence.”
The rapporteurs also urged the government to consider repealing section 22A – which carries a death penalty, as it is inconsistent with the international law on the protection of civic rights.
“We respectfully urge your Excellency’s Government to consider repealing section 22A of the Act in its entirety and to refrain from adopting any such provisions which restrict rather than enable and protect the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
“According to the Act, any association whose activity has the purpose of “willfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe” (section 22A (1) will be subject to criminal sanctions.
“We would first like to emphasise that any restriction on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association on the basis of ‘national interest’ is not permitted under international human rights law. ‘National interest’ is indeed not a valid ground to restrict these freedoms under articles 19, 21 and 22 of the ICCPR.”