By Kumbirai Mafunda
On the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) is calling upon the state to take concrete measures designed to reveal the truth concerning gross human rights violations that have occurred in Zimbabwe.
ZLHR also urges the state actors to take steps to restore the dignity of the victims of gross human rights violations by initiating necessary processes to provide reparations to the victims, survivors, and their relatives.
The International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims is celebrated every year on 24 March.
It aims to honour the memory of victims of gross and systematic human rights violations and promote the importance of the right to truth and justice. In addition, it seeks to pay tribute to the people who have devoted their lives to or lost their lives in the struggle to promote and protect the human rights of everyone. The day is also an opportunity to celebrate the important work and values of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. Archbishop Romero was assassinated after he denounced violations of the human rights of the most vulnerable populations and defended the principles of protecting lives, promoting human dignity, and the rejection of all forms of violence.
The right to the truth about gross human rights violations and serious violations of human rights law is an inalienable right. Such a right imposes an obligation on the state to protect and guarantee human rights through conducting investigations and the provision of effective remedies and reparations to the victims of gross human rights violations. The right to the truth implies the knowledge of the complete truth as to the events that transpired, the specific circumstances in which the violations took place, who participated in them, and the reasons for the violations. In addition, the relatives of the victims of torture, summary executions, and enforced disappearances are entitled to know what happened to the victims.
Although the Constitution of Zimbabwe established the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, ZLHR remains concerned that many victims and survivors of gross human rights violations have not yet been able to know the truth about what happened to them, their relatives, friends, or neighbours.
The Gukurahundi massacres remain a sore point in the history of Zimbabwe and it is worrying that the state has not yet conducted thorough investigations into these gross human rights violations that qualify as genocide under international law. ZLHR has collaborated in the past with other like-minded organisations to compel the state actors to release information to establish the truth. In the constitutional case of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights & Another v The President of the Republic of Zimbabwe & Another filed as case No. 311 of 1999, the applicants sought a court order for the release of information to establish the truth about Gukurahundi.
Although the case was dismissed, ZLHR joins all progressive people who continue to call on state actors to release information for the truth to be established and bring the perpetrators of the massacres to account and pay reparations to the families of the victims and survivors.
The right to the truth and dignity of victims requires that the state pay reparations for the state-sanctioned gross violations and apologise. Similarly, the state should promptly and thoroughly investigate all documented cases of human rights violations such as disappearances of human rights defenders that have occurred in the past.
The August 1 2018 shootings must also be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators held accountable. The relatives of all those who were murdered in cold blood by state security agents on that day are entitled to full knowledge about what happened to the victims as well as reparations from the state.
On this International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, ZLHR urges state actors to:
o Take concrete measures designed to reveal the truth concerning gross human rights violations that have occurred during different periods in Zimbabwe’s history,
o Take steps to restore the dignity of the victims of gross human rights violations by making reparations,
o Investigate the reported and documented cases of enforced disappearances,
o Pay reparations to the relatives of the victims of enforced disappearances,
o Urgently investigate all documented cases of gross violations and make the perpetrators accountable and pay reparations to the relatives of the victims.