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'Gukurahundi commission can't probe military crimes against civilians'

08 Feb 2019 at 08:52hrs | Views
AMID high political temperatures, violent protests and a military crackdown on civilians, the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) is seized with the mammoth task of healing a wounded nation. Also facilitating dialogue among the country's major political parties, the NPRC has been finding the going tough but is determined to bring the political actors to the negotiating table, even as the various parties haggle over the framework of discussions.

Political reporter Nyasha Chingono (NC) interviewed the NPRC chairperson, retired Justice Selo Masole Nare (SN), on the constitutional body's progress in spearheading dialogue. Below are excerpts of the interview:

NC: I understand that last week you launched the framework for national dialogue. Could you explain what that framework entails and what you are hoping to achieve?

SN: The major goal is to reach out to the people so that they can dialogue. That is, talk to each other about the problems they are encountering, resolve these problems through dialogue, other than being involved in confrontations. Our mandate as the commission, as provided for by section 22 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, is to cause the people to dialogue, so as to prevent situations, conflict situations, from turning into national conflict.

This is why we organised that strategic dialogue meeting in order to hear it from the people themselves, what their opinion is towards strategic dialogue - how we can resolve any issues of conflict in terms of dialogue. You may want to know that section 252 spells out one of the functions of the NPRC. As a commission, we are implored to develop procedures and institutions at national level to facilitate dialogue among the political parties, communities, organisations and other groups in order to prevent conflict and disputes arising in the future. One of the issues we raised at the meeting was, are people talking? If not, why are they not talking? And the answer we got was, yes, people are prepared to talk. People prefer dialogue but we must set the framework of the dialogue.

NC: Which political parties have you approached for dialogue and how has been the response? Is there willingness to discuss issues of national importance and solve the current crisis?

SN: We have approached most of them. But we have, in particular, approached the MDC and the ruling party, Zanu-PF. They are very open to the issue of dialogue. We have not, however, finalised meetings with them and the other parties.

NC: What has been the sticking point hampering dialogue?

SN: At this present moment, it's confidential.

NC: Which individual politicians have you approached so far in a bid to initiate dialogue?

SN: In the MDC, we have approached their secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora and their vice-president, Morgen Komichi. An attempt was made to approach Tendai Biti.
Zanu-PF on the other hand has a very intricate hierarchy. We have approached in the past; they have their administrative secretary, Obert Mpofu, legal affairs personality Advocate Paul Mangwana. Sometimes the commissioners are referred to the former secretary for Finance and Justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa. From our point of view, they are willing to dialogue.

NC: Have the parties agreed on the framework of the dialogue, because I understand that the MDC would like dialogue to deliberate on the legitimacy issue surrounding the presidency in the wake of a disputed election?

SN: That I can't answer because I'm still getting reports from the commissioners.

NC: The church has also been a critical voice calling for political dialogue. Do you agree with them on their terms of reference? Is there conflict between you and the church?

SN: Not that I know of. Our approach to this is in terms of the law. The churches are a religious group too who are part of the stakeholder group. They are part of stakeholders in terms of section 6:4. We have never received any complaints, our dialogue with them has never been confrontational.

NC: What is the objective of bringing political parties together?

SN: We want to try and bring peace. People must be able to discuss among themselves and bring peace. We also want to reconcile the groups. It's very difficult and it will take a bit of time because people are still hurting. The problem we have is interested parties. There are reports of NGOs who ride on us as the commission and as such go and get funding.

NC: Does the commission have access to political leaders?

SN: Just yesterday we were discussing the issue of approaching the top political leaders, which I believe we will do soon. It's very interesting to note that during the August 1 disturbances we were able to approach Vice-President (Constantino) Chiwenga and get his opinion on what happened and in our itinerary we will as quickly as possible approach the hierarchy, that is the President, through the chief secretary, the vice-presidents. We also have intent to approach the cabinet. Interesting enough, we have also been invited to the parliamentary meeting.

The parliamentarians are eager to know the other side. We believe that this must be carried out as a matter of urgency. But as you know, politicians are a busy people. You have to make appointments in order to meet them. At times we all know the routine. We should have organised a meeting with His Excellency before he left the country for his Eurasia tour because it's our view that his door is open.

NC: We have seen a lot of violence during the past three weeks, some of it perpetrated by the security forces. What is the commission's stance on violence?

SN: Our stance is that, in terms of the law, we don't condone violence. We rely on the law particularly as regards the fundamental human rights of people. You look at the freedom of assembly, association, freedom to demonstrate and petition. The law does allow people to do that. But when you find people destroying other people's properties - this is outside the law. I think even politicians, like any other Zimbabwean, would not condone violence.

NC: Last week, you mentioned investigations into human rights violations. Have you begun investigating these abuses?

SN: We have issued a press statement of what we are going to do. There are other stakeholders we have had to approach and our time frame is really compact. We are trying to do that within a reasonable time frame, hence we are trying to do that on a daily basis. We are meeting as a commission in order to discuss the time frames.
We are also tabulating the other stakeholders that we need to approach. Having specific dates when we will approach the (traditional) chiefs, because they are another component of dialogue and the churches. We have already started approaching the ministry departments, who really matter in the issues of dialogue. We have also started approaching the parliamentarians. Soon as today, one has to approach the speaker of parliament. We have to approach the youth. What I think is greatly important is to approach the grassroots. At the grassroots, people must be on the ground talking to them.

NC: There seems to be public mistrust to the manner in which commissions have handled cases of this nature in the past. What is the NPRC doing differently to restore confidence in state-appointed human rights watchdogs?

SN: It's a very interesting question because you can't tell what your brother is thinking about you. Conflicts are activities that involve man. Man sometimes is full of conflict. Our main idea is to continue to go to the stakeholders, talk to them, and convince them that what we are trying to do will save the nation. Continuously, I believe we will be able to gain their trust. At times you have to go out to the people and talk to them, face their criticism, debate, dialogue with them and convince them on what we are trying to do.

NC: There has been a pattern of state repression since 1980 and some sections of society believe the state can unleash violence and get away with it. Is the commission aware that there is a growing problem of impunity in the country?

SN: We have heard about. This is why we have taken the initiative to dialogue. Our investigative role is spelt out in the constitution, but our constraints are that of resources. We should be out there talking to the people. We require back-up staff, which we should be employing in a week or two. We have put our advertisements in the form of back-up staff, who will handle complaints, people who will handle commissioners' transport. If it were not for the disturbances, we could have started hiring additional staff. But I know government has given us some amount (of money) from which we can work with. As soon as the budget is approved, we should be able to get the figure. One of the major constraints is transport, because we are using our own cars so that we can make the most of the work that has to be done.

NC: Who are you answerable to as a commission?

SN: We are answerable to the parliament, but we are also directly answerable to is the Vice-President Kembo Mohadi. That is the person that I go to in order to raise any complaints, discuss any issues. In terms of the law, we enjoy our independence. You find independence cannot be total per se, one has to rely on other people.
NC: Can you update us on the commission's work in Matabeleland and efforts to bring healing to Gukurahundi massacres?

SN: We have been there. We have formed peace committees. We have had meetings with political parties, stakeholders like the church. This is our number one issue, that of Gukurahundi. We should have been there on the ground. But what has limited us are the resources. We try to the best of our ability. In order to show our seriousness, we have already appointed a commissioner to be on the ground there so as to facilitate meetings, dialogue with the people and this is our approach. We agreed that we should fill that area. We have the help of churches there. We should have been there but while we were getting ready, the recent conflict occurred. Our focus was then diverted to other issues. Having been a magistrate previously, I know how it is to have students incarcerated, but the cases are so serious such that those handling the cases, they had to incarcerate them. But not all of them have been incarcerated.

NC: There has been widespread repression, particularly in Harare, where members of the uniformed forces have been accused of killing and beating up people, raping women and terrorising neighbourhoods. What is the commission doing to bring the culprits to book?

SN: We rely on our investigative role. We have started our investigative role, but I admit that we are yet to go to other areas. We should do that as a matter of urgency. This has become our daily operation. But the law says the commission shall not investigate where the action of the subject matter is of a civil nature and the matter is before any court. While we are investigating, we cannot go beyond the requirements of that legal framework. We can only encourage the police to do their work diligently.

NC: Some victims, especially women, are afraid of reporting rape to the police. How are you helping such a vulnerable segment of society?

SN: We accept that the constitution is bleeding. The women are being encouraged to report. Since this issue is of a criminal element, we can only encourage the police to do their job diligently.

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