Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
A recent opinion piece by OSISA’s Richard Lee celebrated the fact that Mozambique’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had finally become operational – saying that it represented a major boost to the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. And he was right. The Commission is critically important and the fact that commissioners have been given a clear mandate to oversee human rights in the country is cause for cheer. But the applause for the new Commission must not blind people to the major challenges that the institution faces – challenges that could seriously hamper its effectiveness.
I want to highlight these concerns not to make a point or to be controversial – but to raise awareness about the main obstacles that will confront the NHRC and enable the commissioners to devise strategies to tackle them before it is too late – because only a fully-functioning and influential Commission will represent the ‘huge leap forward’ that Lee and others have enthused about.
In theory, the optimists are absolutely correct. The NHRC is a powerful institution with the mandate to oversee human rights in Mozambique. It can receive and investigate individual complaints about alleged human rights abuses and provide advice to the victims. The Commission can also refer cases of a criminal nature to Attorney General’s office for further investigation. Furthermore, it is tasked with monitoring the implementation of international human rights conventions and instruments that the country has ratified. With all these powers, the NHRC should be able to play a very active role in monitoring the State’s activities in relation to human rights. However, when you look closely, there are some major weaknesses that will limit the Commission’s impact – unless they are urgently addressed.
Firstly, studying the statute establishing the NHRC (Law No. 33/2009) a glaring problem emerges – the provisions do not provide the Commission with the mandate to monitor the implementation of its findings relating to violations of human rights. Indeed, it does not have the power to follow up on the implementation of any of its decisions and recommendations on any of the issues within its overall mandate.
This situation is worrying because the law establishing the Commission merely compels public authorities to cooperate with the Commission – it places no legal duty on them to comply with the NHRC’s decisions. On many occasions, experts have argued that the absence of follow-up mechanisms limits the impact of human rights monitoring bodies. For example, Viljoen observed that the lack of a mechanism to enable the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – the body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights – to follow up the implementation of its decisions has undermined its work. I fear that the absence of an effective follow up mechanism will have the same negative effect on Mozambique’s new National Human Rights Commission – to the detriment of its work and the fundamental rights of Mozambican people.
Another major cause for concern is that the NHRC statute provides for the appointment of 11 commissioners who should be citizens with high moral integrity and experience in the field of human rights. And while many of the new commissioners are excellent choices, only 8 of them have human rights training. This could cause real problems when the Commission starts working since it could increase the burden and the workload on the 8 trained commissioners – and could also raise doubts about the institution’s capacity.
It is critical that the commissioners start trying to address these challenges as soon as possible – by working with other public bodies to secure an agreement in principle (even if it is not binding in practice) on the implementation of decisions. The commissioners could also begin to deal with the fact that three of them lack of human rights training by hiring support staff who have excellent human rights training and expertise.
If these kinds of steps are taken, then the NHRC will help Mozambique to take a giant leap forwards in terms of the promotion and protection of human rights.ShareThis