ZIMBABWE: Special interest groups demand say in new constitution

Source: IRIN
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WASHINGTON, 31 August 2009 (IRIN) – Special interest groups in Zimbabwe are launching a concerted push to ensure their rights are enshrined in the new constitution. The Global Political Agreement signed in September 2008 between Zimbabwe’s various political rivals, which gave rise to the unity government in February 2009, includes writing a new constitution, expected to be introduced in 2010. The current constitution was adopted at independence from Britain in 1980 after the Lancaster House negotiations led to Ian Smith’s white minority government being replaced by a democratic dispensation. “We are looking forward to a constitution that reflects and respects the rights of all citizens as inalienable, including those of gays, lesbians and transgenders,” Fadzai Muparutsa, programme manager for Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), told IRIN. Homosexuality is outlawed in Zimbabwe – although there are no specific laws prohibiting lesbian relationships – but President Robert Mugabe’s nearly three decades of rule have been increasingly hostile towards the gay community, and he has denounced gays as “Un-African” and “worse than pigs and dogs”. “Specific mention of sexual orientation should be made in the new constitution and homosexuality should be decriminalized. We have made this clear to the parliamentary committee in charge of the whole process; South Africa did it, and so can we,” Muparutsa said. South Africa, Zimbabwe’s southern neighbour, became the first country in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in its 1994 constitution, after the demise of apartheid, and the first African country to legalize same-sex marriages in 2004. Disabled People living with disabilities are also campaigning for their rights to be recognized and a special sub-committee on disability has been working with the parliamentary select committee responsible for drafting the new constitution. Farai Mungoni, advocacy officer of the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped, dismissed the present constitution as “disability insensitive.” “Disability is only mentioned in passing in Section 23 of the current constitution, which says no one should be discriminated against because they are disabled, but that’s not enough. We want a constitution that expressly enshrines our social, political and economic rights and freedoms,” he told IRIN. “Voting rights for the visually impaired, especially, are being violated. Blind people are assisted by police officers when voting, which virtually robs them of their right to a secret vote – these people should be assisted by trusted associates of their choice. Government should also introduce ballot papers that are in Braille,” Mungoni said. Disagreements However, the introduction of a new constitution is far from assured, as Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and the main opposition party, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, are locked in arguments about the provisions. “Lack of funds is another serious problem threatening the process,” co-chairman of the parliamentary select committee, Paul Mangwana, told IRIN. “We need about US$9 million to fund the process, but government is literally bankrupt.” A number of civic groups are also insisting that parliament hand over leadership of the process to civil society, and have threatened to mobilize the public to reject the draft in the required referendum.

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