Protestors gather during a demonstration over the hike in fuel prices in Harare. Picture: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Harare - While the Zimbabwean government's austerity measures meant to transform the performance of the economy may be commendable, due care and diligence must be exercised to protect the rights and well-being of especially the vulnerable members of society, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) said on Saturday.

The ZHRC had noted with concern the fast deteriorating socio-economic and security situation in Zimbabwe triggered by an assortment of government policy statements and decisions. These had had far-reaching effects on the household economy, causing losses in incomes and savings, thereby worsening poverty levels in the country, the commission said in a statement.

"The ZHRC fully understands the dire macro-economic situation in the country and the need to make radical decisions to remedy the situation. While such austerity measures meant to transform the performance of the economy may be commendable, due care and diligence must be exercised to protect the rights and well-being of especially the vulnerable members of society," it said.

In particular, it was important to develop pro-poor policies, including setting up effective social safety nets to ensure access to basic goods and services by all. Section 13 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe implored the state and all institutions of government to ensure equitable development. Further, section 13 (2) required government to involve the people in the formulation and implementation of development plans and programmes that affect them.

"It is the view of the commission that most of the austerity measures and decisions are being made with little or no consultation of the relevant stakeholders and citizens and in many instances sound and appear as almost arbitrary. As a result there is no buy in or support for these new policies leading to implementation challenges with some key players and citizens resisting the changes.

"Related to this, there are no structured policy review mechanisms in place to assess and understand both intended and unintended impact of government decisions and policies on citizens and the economy. All policies, no matter how well meant, can have a negative impact that disproportionately affect the disadvantaged members of society.

"Such members of society need state support to cushion them so that they cope with the consequent hardships. It is now increasingly difficult for poor families to put food on the table, access medical services, send children to school, or enjoy any other socio-economic rights enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe," the commission said.

The government of Zimbabwe, outside pronouncing a number of austerity measures, had not provided a clear road map to economic recovery and prosperity. Key determinants of economic growth were not being dealt with decisively. For example, the ZHRC believed the country would not attract much investment or realise economic development before decisively dealing with the current currency confusion.

"The ZHRC therefore calls upon government to take the lead in convening a platform for national dialogue with partners in all sectors, including captains of industry, labour unions, independent commissions, civil society, the opposition, and ordinary citizens in order to find lasting solutions to the prevailing economic challenges to ensure respect and observance of human rights and promote peace and security in the country.

"We urge the government to be a listening and caring administration, not worried about perceptions of weakness or climb-down because of accommodating various sectors and viewpoints in addressing the national crisis that Zimbabwe finds itself in."

The ZHRC called upon all stakeholders to exercise restraint and uphold peace, and at the same time urged government not to violate citizens’ rights to information by blocking social media and internet services.

In addition, the commission urged law enforcement agents to protect people and property in line with their constitutional mandate and not to cause harm and loss of life to the protesting citizens.

"In this regard, the commission has noted with concern the reports of loss of life and limb during the current demonstrations, attributed mainly to the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP). 

The commission believed that "heavy-handedness on the part of the security sector" did not solve the national problems, but only helped to create resentment and anger among the citizens which in turn bred the violence currently being experienced.

African News Agency/ANA