Date of Issue:10 December 2021
This year’s theme for Human Rights Day is Equality – Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights.
The theme is aligned with the United Nation’s 2030 agenda that emphasizes the need to find sustainable solutions for deep-rooted forms of discrimination that have affected the most vulnerable people in society, including women, girls, and indigenous peoples.
As Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA), we join the rest of the world in celebrating the Human Rights Day. As a public interest law organization, ZELA emphasizes the need for businesses to respect, protect, promote, and fulfill human rights. This is the essence of responsible investments. The State also has a mandate to ensure that the rights of its citizens are guaranteed.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe contains several provisions regarding human rights entitlements, and several statutory enactments. The broad range of human rights considerations contained in the Declaration of Rights (Chapter 4), speaks to business standards, labour rights, environmental rights, and the duty of the State, the individual and the business entity to respect, protect, fulfil, and promote human rights. Section 44 states that “The State and every person, including juristic persons, and every institution and agency of the government at every level must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights and freedoms set out in this Chapter”. This provision expressly makes business entities duty-bound to advance the Declaration of Rights.
The Human Rights Day comes at a time when a lot is happening in the mining sector. Although the sector’s contribution to the economy cannot be ignored, ZELA is saddened by the prevalent violations of fundamental rights within the mining sector. This includes development induced displacements without the free, prior and informed consent of traditional communities. Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People adopted in 2007, provides that companies should not forcibly remove indigenous people from their land or territories. This means that no relocation ought to take place without free and informed consent of the indigenous people concerned.
Relocation plans should be carefully made, with full consent of the concerned people so that no affected person, group, or community has their standard of living, culture and social cohesion diminished as a result. Therefore, communities must be afforded an opportunity to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights.
The “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra must include sustainability and human rights compliance. Zimbabwe must be cautious and avoid falling into the trap of elevating the needs of foreign investors at the expense of the local communities and the rights of locals. There must be robust fidelity to constitutional provisions that promote responsible resource management and fiscal accountability.
Parliament must ensure that there is a clear reporting and disclosure framework embedded into every agreement to ensure that the Executive complies with the relevant sections of the Constitution. Historically, there is a mismatch between human rights standards and practice when it comes to businesses. There is need for a clear policy on human rights principles guiding business in Zimbabwe and to ensure a deliberate process of aligning the principles with business practice. A good investment policy must have a strong human rights component and a strong legal system to support the realization of the rights of all affected people.
Abuse of human rights in business and specifically in mining, has a direct correlation with poor resource governance. To address mineral leakages, ZELA recommends that policies must be adopted and enforced, to address leakages and illicit flows, including curbing transfer pricing and trade mis invoicing. Government tax regime must also be harmonized, and full disclosure made of tax incentives vis-à-vis revenues forgone.
As we commemorate the International Human Rights Day, we also highlight the challenges faced by women in Artisanal and Small-scale mining that need urgent address. Measures to improve the work environment, tackle gendered violence, labour rights must be put in place.
Let us ensure that we strive to promote Equality as a fundamental human right. That way we can be able to Reduce inequalities and continue advancing human rights as emphasized in this year’s International Human Rights Day theme.