International Human Rights Day - Statement by Georges Van Montfort, UNDP Country Director

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8 December 2017, Takashinga Cricket Club, Harare -  as Delivered

Salutations

  • Honourable Minister of Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs
  • Honourable Minister of State for Provincial Affairs, Harare Metropolitan Province
  • Representatives of the Government of
  • Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Members of the Diplomatic Corps and heads of international organizations
  • Deputy Chairperson and Commissioners of the ZHRC
  • Representatives of other Chapter 12 Institutions
  • Executive Secretary all staff of the ZHRC
  • Directors and Staff of Civil Society and Faith Based Organizations
  • Representatives of the Private Sector
  • Members of the Media Fraternity
  • Our performing Artistes here with us
  • The Highfield Community
  • All protocols observed.

On this occasion of the International Human Rights Day celebrated every year on the 10th of December, I am honoured to be part of this special gathering. This year’s theme, “Stand up for Human Rights” aims to raise awareness of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.Image-1.png

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 stated in his message marking Human Rights Day, and I quote “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. While human rights abuses did not end when the Universal Declaration was adopted, the Declaration has helped countless people to gain greater freedom and security.  It has helped to prevent violations, obtain justice for wrongs, and strengthen national and international human rights laws and safeguards.”

He goes on to state that “Despite these advances, the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration are being tested in all regions … I urge 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.” End quote.

Human rights entail both 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 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 iIMG_7448_0.jpgn 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.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

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.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Coming back to today, allow me to congratulate the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and its partners in organising this event which contributes to global efforts of popularising human rights and for your efforts in promoting Human Rights in Zimbabwe as so eloquently highlighted by the Chairperson earlier.

I would like to once more congratulate ZHRC on attaining its “A” Status accreditation which demonstrates the quick progress the commission has made since its establishment. Zimbabwe has also 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 trust that the Government will continue the efforts in the implementation of the UPR action plan and we stand 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.IMG_7395_0.jpg

We have 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. We also welcome the recent High Court ruling allowing the so-called “aliens” to be registered as prospective voters ahead of the 2018 general elections and commend ZEC for its quick implementation of the same.

As indicated, human rights have a large wing span and include rights to social services such as health, education and the right to decent work. We welcome the attention to the provision of social goods by the Government as indicated in the inauguration speech of H.E. 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.

As the Chairperson has highlighted, while it is important to celebrate achievements, we cannot be complacent. It is vital to recognize the challenges. Public service delivery, in certain areas, remains limited and highly dependent on donor funding. 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 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. Further delays can be impediment to the enjoyment of rights. On a positive note, the ongoing public hearings on the Electoral Act, we hope, will serve as vital input to the parliamentary debates on the same. Other laws will likewise need to be fully aligned to the Constitution, amongst others taking into account, subsidiary legislation like, for example, the subsidiary legislation on ending child marriages, which many in the country can relate to.

We also call on the Government for further efforts at ratification of pending instruments, like the Convention Against Torture, and domestication of instruments already ratified.

The remaining challenges require a collective effort and continued critical self-examination on how the country fares against the standards provided for in the Universal Declaration and against the Zimbabwe Constitution.

Ladies and gentlemen:

As we stand up for rights, it is critical to draw inIMG_7377.JPGspiration from the Sustainable Development Goals which pledge to “leave no one behind”.  Implementation of the SDGs will mean human rights are realised for all. I therefore encourage all stakeholders to find and take hold of the various entry points that enable a progressive realization of human rights particularly SDG 16 as we join hands to build strong institutions that promote peace, unity and equity, while emphasising on the need for enhanced partnerships and coordination.

Allow me to conclude by reminding us all that as we celebrate international Human Rights Day, we are also culminating the efforts around 16 Days of activism against gender based violence. During these 16 days, there has been a clarion call to ensure that we 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 our efforts of 16 Days of activism, but rather the first day of our continued work all year long to end violence against women and girls.

I thank you.