Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) acknowledges the gazetting of the General Laws Amendment Bill (“the Bill”) on 8 May 2015. This Bill has been introduced two years after the Constitution was adopted and ‘makes amendments to Acts to bring them into conformity with the Constitution.’ It also provides for other related matters. This Bill seeks to align 126 statutes with the new Constitution of Zimbabwe.
Of concern is the fact that the Bill mostly introduces only minor changes to these Acts, such as re-referencing, changing titles of offices, officials, institutions etc, and the inclusion of new preambles. While many Acts require such cosmetic amendments, for many Acts the changes are piecemeal and fail to align the most crucial and substantive provisions required to comply with the Constitution.
ZLHR welcomes the fact that the Bill does seek to introduce some substantive amendments –notably to the Interpretation Act, the Privileges, Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act, the Electoral Act, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and the Trade Marks Act - but is concerned that some of these amendments do not in fact further the protection of constitutional rights.
For example: -
- · The Privileges, Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act:
ZLHR is also disappointed that certain laws that directly contravene the Declaration of Rights have not been repealed in the Bill, in spite of extensive campaigning by ZLHR and other legal and human rights experts in this regard over the two years since the introduction of the Constitution. ZLHR has specifically prepared an extensive list of Priorities for the Harmonisation of Legislation with the new Constitution of Zimbabwe. It is a pity that Parliament has not facilitated public involvement in its legislative process nor consulted interested parties about the Bill, as required under the Constitution.
The following Acts in particular require urgent amendment: -
- · Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act:
- · Public Order and Security Act:
- · Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act:
- · Broadcasting Services Act:
The following Acts impacting on the protection of socio-economic rights also require urgent amendment: -
- · The Housing and Building Act; Housing Standards Control Act:
- · Urban Councils Act; Rural District Councils Act; Water Act: devolution of governmental powers and responsibilities
- · Other important Acts affecting socio-economic rights (not exhaustive) yet to be amended include the Education Act (to include a definition of basic education, the nature and extent of state-funded education, and the use of official languages); the Public Health Act (it violates the right to privacy, right to health and is discriminatory)
The following Acts have also not been substantively amended in the Bill, as required: -
- · Births and Deaths Registration Act:
- · Other Acts restricting civil and political rights (not exhaustive) include the Prisons Act and Police Act (they restrict the rights of arrested and detained persons), the Magistrates Court Act (it allows for imprisonment for failing to pay a debt), the Protected Places and Areas Act (it restricts freedom of movement), the Private Voluntary Organisations Act (it hinders the right to enter into association with others and work for a common cause), and the Interception of Communications Act (it restricts the right to privacy).
In conclusion, the proposed amendments fall far short of bringing all our laws in line with the new Constitution. ZLHR calls on Parliament to urgently implement the outstanding legislative reforms, as set out in more detail in ZLHR’s Harmonisation Priorities List. The Bill must not be seen as an end unto itself: indeed, certain Acts will be more appropriately addressed in independent Bills (the National Peace and Reconciliation Bill, for example). ZLHR therefore calls for Parliament’s work on harmonisation to continue as a matter of urgency but in good faith, allowing for true public participation and parliamentary debate in the process.