UNDP Country Director in Zimbabwe Georges Van Montfort

By Georges Van Montfort

Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in celebrating the International Human Rights Day last weekend at Takashinga Cricket Club under the global theme, “Stand up for Human Rights”. The theme aims to raise awareness of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Universal Declaration is a milestone in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, it has become a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. The power of the Universal Declaration is the power of ideas to change the world. It inspires us to continue working to ensure all people can gain freedom, equality and dignity.

As the UN Secretary General, Mr. Antonio Guterres stated in his message marking Human Rights Day since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration in 1948, human rights have been one of the three pillars of the United Nations, along with peace and development.  Noting with concern that the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration were being tested in all regions of the world, Mr Guterres urged, “people and leaders everywhere to stand up for all human rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural – and for the values that underpin our hopes for a fairer, safer and better world for all.”

Human rights entail rights and obligations and span from civil and political rights to economic, social and cultural rights. The Constitution of Zimbabwe has a comprehensive Bill of Rights under Chapter 4, translating the universal declaration into its founding law. During the political events of the past weeks, that same Constitution seems to have become one of the most consulted documents in Zimbabwe and the United Nations notes that this has also contributed to raising awareness on the need to uphold and defend human rights at all times.

Engagement of citizens in the political developments that took place in November was exemplary, as manifested by peaceful demonstrations and submissions of expectations and ideas from all corners of society for consideration by the Government. It is important that such requests are considered, and that the spirit of constructive dialogue is maintained especially as many expectations cannot be met immediately but will have to be realized through concerted efforts by all Zimbabweans supported by its many partners.

In his message to His Excellency President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Cde Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, the UN Secretary General, Mr. Antonio Guterres welcomed the emphasis placed on national unity and serving all citizens regardless of political affiliation and to strive to fulfil the aspirations of Zimbabweans for inclusive economic development, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. The UN Secretary General also expressed the continued support from the United Nations to the Government and the people of Zimbabwe to consolidate democratic institutions and advance economic and social development for all.

Zimbabwe has made progress towards its international human right obligations, including periodically reporting of the status of its human rights implementation plans and progress under ratified treaties, and ensuring enjoyment of economic social and cultural rights, among others. We, the United Nations Development System in Zimbabwe, trust that the Government will continue the efforts in the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review action plan and the United Nations stands ready to support.

In the ambit of the right to health, Zimbabwe while being one of the countries most affected by the HIV epidemic is now providing antiretroviral treatment to 1 million people living with HIV with a determined effort to scale up the HIV response. This scale-up is much needed as some still face challenges in accessing the health and social services they urgently need. We all must continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people being left behind and ensure we can achieve the 90-90-90 treatment targets and ending AIDS by 2030.

The United Nations has witnessed great effort in the registration of potential voters, now reaching over 3.7 million. Registration is the crucial step required to exercise one’s right to vote and I would urge those not registered to benefit from the ongoing exercise. The recent High Court ruling allowing the so-called “aliens” to be registered as prospective voters ahead of the 2018 general elections is a welcome decision and the Zimbabwe Election Commission’s quick implementation of the same is commendable.

Human rights have a large wing span and include rights to social services such as health, education and the right to decent work. The United Nations welcomes the attention to the provision of social goods by the Government as indicated in the inauguration speech of the President. As a UN system, we are supporting a wide range of programmes anchored on advancing rights to development, resilience building of vulnerable communities, improving service delivery and promoting inclusive growth for sustainable development. It is vital to recognize some challenges in public service delivery, particularly in certain areas; there is great scope to enhance efficiencies by expediting the ongoing reform initiatives, increasing productivity and fighting corruption. It is essential to increase public service efficiency based on strong national ownership of and continued investments towards social services and building on enhanced transparency and accountability.

While Zimbabwe’s participation in the human rights Universal Periodic Review and commitment to implement 151 recommendations is recognized and progress is also noted with alignment of laws, some critical laws still have to be aligned to the 2013 Constitution. On a positive note, it is hoped that the ongoing public hearings on the Electoral Act will serve as vital input to the parliamentary debates on the same. Other laws, amongst others subsidiary legislation like, for example, ending child marriages, which many in the country can relate to should be aligned to the Constitution. The United Nations also calls on the Government and ready to support further efforts at ratification of pending instruments, like the Convention Against Torture, and domestication of instruments already ratified.

As we stand up for rights, it is critical to draw inspiration from the Sustainable Development Goals which pledge to “leave no one behind”.  Implementation of the SDGs will mean human rights are realised for all.

When we celebrated the International Human Rights Day, we were also culminating the efforts around 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence. During these 16 days, there has been a clarion call to end all forms of gender based violence every day and not only during those 16 days. This is a core part of human rights and “Standing up for Human Rights”. Let us pledge therefore that this is not the last day of joint efforts of 16 Days of activism, but rather the first day of a continued work all year long until violence against women and girls gets to zero.

Georges Van Montfort is the UNDP Country Director in Zimbabwe