Building Human Rights in Zimbabwe

March 23, 2015

Since September 2014, the Royal Netherlands Embassy (RNE) in partnership with Hivos has been supporting Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust (ZIMCET) and Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT) to build a sustainable human rights culture in Zimbabwe. Both ZIMCET and HZT have been fostering peace in Zimbabwe though advocacy and community peace building projects and are collaborating on the initiative entitled: “Building a Sustainable Human Rights Culture in Zimbabwe.”

Zimbabwe has a long history of political disharmony which spirals into violence during elections, engendering division and acrimony within communities. The country’s human rights record is tainted by a culture of impunity.

To complicate matters, a majority of Zimbabwe’s citizens, particularly in rural areas, have little awareness of their human rights. A key premise of the project is that human rights are a critical foundation for human dignity and freedom. They create the basis for the development of democracy, rule of law and economic progress.

The project seeks to make rural communities aware of their rights as well as hold their leaders and duty bearers accountable. The project begins by training a selected group of community-based peace advocates on the provisions of Zimbabwe’s new Constitution so that they have the knowledge, skills and tools to monitor human rights in their communities.

“We are raising awareness around the constitutionally provided commissions that support democracy and human rights, in particular, the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and the Human Rights Commission,” said Michelle Duma, ZIMCET’s Programmes Coordinator.

The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) seeks to address past conflicts to ensure that lasting peace is achieved in Zimbabwe, while the Human Rights Commission’s main mandate is to protect, promote and enforce human rights.

Community members are expected to effectively utilise their new knowledge of human rights and how human-rights related institutions function to demand proper performance from these institutions and foster a culture of respect, protection and promotion of human rights. The project also leverages relevant indigenous knowledge systems and traditions within the target communities.

According to HZT Director, Rashid Mahiya, a traditional platform such as nhimbe, a practice by Shona people – Zimbabwe’s largest indigenous group – that involves people in the same community working collaboratively, provides an opportunity to mobilise communities.

“We target nhimbes because they’re natural and neutral platforms. They’ve nothing to with politics and hence allow us to reach more people,” said Mahiya.

To date, ZIMCET and HZT have trained 73 peace activists, including 45 men and 28 women, to be aware of provisions of the Constitution. Following the training, one group established a community on WhatsApp, a mobile messaging app, so they stay engaged to lobby their elected representative.

Duma said the next stage of the project will involve the trained peace activists conducting training in their communities to raise awareness of human rights.