BILL WATCH 55-2022 - The Commonwealth and the PVO Amendment Bill

BILL WATCH 55/2022

[21st November 2022]

The Commonwealth and the PVO Amendment Bill

In 2002 Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth for a year for breaching articles of the 1991 Harare Declaration [link] in which all Commonwealth countries pledged to work towards:

“democracy, democratic processes and institutions which reflect national circumstances, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, just and honest government.”

In 2003, after the Commonwealth refused to lift the suspension, Zimbabwe withdrew from the organisation.

In 2018, following the overthrow of President Mugabe, the new Government applied to rejoin the organisation, and a delegation from the Commonwealth Secretariat has recently visited the country to assess Zimbabwe’s eligibility for readmission.

What the Commonwealth Stands For

The Commonwealth of Nations, to give it its full title, is often called a club, and like all clubs its members are expected to obey certain rules.  In the case of the Commonwealth these rules are embodied in the Charter of the Commonwealth which was signed in 2013 by the late Queen Elizabeth II in her capacity as head of the organisation.  The Charter, which can be accessed on the Veritas website [link], consolidates various declarations made by Commonwealth heads of government over the years, such as the Singapore Declaration of 1971 [link], the Harare Declaration already referred to and the Latimer House Principles of 2003 [link]The Charter sets out the core values and principles which all members of the Commonwealth are expected to observe.  They are:

Democracy:  the inalienable right of individuals to participate in democratic processes, in particular through free and fair elections

Human rights:  respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights for all, as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments

International peace and security:  an effective multilateral system based on inclusiveness, equity, justice and international law

Tolerance, respect and understanding:  as well as moderation, religious freedom and respect for human dignity

Freedom of expression:  peaceful, open dialogue and the free flow of information through free and responsible media

Separation of powers:  the integrity of the roles of the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, which in their respective spheres guarantee the rule of law, protection and promotion of human rights and adherence to good governance

Rule of law:  in particular an independent, impartial, honest and competent judiciary, as well as an independent, effective and competent legal system

Good governance:  to ensure transparency and accountability and eradicate corruption

Sustainable development:  to eradicate poverty while conserving natural ecosystems and promoting social equity

Protection of the environment:  sustainable management of the natural environment as the key to sustained human development

Access to health, education, food and shelter:  affordable health care, education, clean drinking water, nutritious food, sanitation and housing

Gender equality:  recognition that this, as well as the empowerment of women, are essential components of human development and basic human rights

Importance of young people:  recognition that the future success of the Commonwealth depends on them

Recognition of the needs of small states:  particularly small island states facing economic, environmental and security challenges

Recognition of the needs of vulnerable states:  the provision of immediate help to the poorest, most vulnerable and least developed countries

Role of civil society:  recognition of “the important role that civil society plays in our communities and countries as partners in promoting and supporting Commonwealth values and principles, including the freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and in achieving development goals.”

The last of these core values and principles, which we have quoted in full, echoes one of the Latimer House Principles:

“Parliaments and governments should recognise the role that civil society plays in the implementation of the Commonwealth’s fundamental values and should strive for a constructive relationship with civil society to ensure that there is broader opportunity for lawful participation in the democratic process.”

The PVO Amendment Bill

It remains to be seen if the Commonwealth will readmit Zimbabwe;  that presumably will depend on the report submitted by its team who have just visited the country.  In reaching their decision the Commonwealth leaders will have to assess how far our Government adheres to the core Commonwealth values of democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and so on.  We shall not comment on that in this bulletin, except in regard to the recognition of the role of civil society.

The Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill is currently awaiting its Third Reading in the National Assembly and is still to be considered by the Senate.  Veritas analysed the Bill in Bill Watches 72/2021 [link] and 74/2021 [link] and found it to be unconstitutional, inimical to freedom of association, ill-conceived and badly drafted.  It will stifle the activities of private voluntary organisations [PVOs] of all kinds and will put at risk the social and economic development they bring.  If enacted, it prevent civil society in Zimbabwe from promoting and supporting Commonwealth values such as freedom of association, peaceful assembly, sustainable development and protection of the environment.  The Bill, in short, will make a mockery of the Commonwealth’s values.

That is something which the Commonwealth leaders, and the Zimbabwe government, should think about.

Note:  The PVO Bill will lapse when the current parliamentary session ends tomorrow and a new session starts the next day, Wednesday.  If it is to be passed in the new session, the National Assembly will have to resolve to revive it.  We urge the Government not to reintroduce the Bill and we urge the Assembly not to revive it. 

Download Document: