By Lloyd Mupfudze- Local government in Zimbabwe is recognised in the national constitution. The constitution explicitly requires local government to respect human rights. Section 194 on Basic values and principles governing public administration sates that “Public administration in all tiers of government, including institutions and agencies of the State and government-controlled entities and other public enterprises, must be governed by the democratic values and principles enshrined in this Constitution”.
Section 266 also stipulates that employees of provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities must act in accordance with the Constitution and the law and no employee of a provincial or metropolitan council or a local authority may, in the exercise of their functions violate the fundamental rights or freedoms of any person.
The powers of local governments must be exercised in accordance with the law, which means that they are obliged to observe human rights guaranteed by the law. The duty of local government to observe human rights is expressed in principles such as securing the public welfare and ensure the fair and equitable representation of people within their areas of jurisdiction.
It is important to have an explicit legal provision which obliges local government to promote and protect human rights. Local authorities are thus informed of their human rights responsibilities, understanding that any failure to comply with these responsibilities will entail their liability under national law as well as international responsibility of the State as a whole.
The provision will impose a clear obligation on local authorities to apply a human rights-based approach to delivering public services within their defined mandate. Consequently, it may well encourage rights holders to claim their rights vis-à-vis local authorities.
Local authorities are close to citizens’ every day needs and deal with human rights on daily basis. Therefore, the nexus between human rights and local government can never be underestimated. Local councils take decisions relating in particular to housing, education, environment, law and order.
These are fundamental and directly linked to the implementation and realisation of human rights. If the local authorities fail in their mandate to provide the essential services the possibilities of citizens to enjoy their human rights is diminished. Therefore, there is need to integrate a human rights dimension in local government initiatives.
Council officials are responsible for a wide range of human rights issues in their work. However, it is unfortunate that the officials and the general public do not perceive council functions as human rights implementation or programming. Consequently, human rights are not included in policy analysis and practice at the local government level.
Human rights duties of local government follow the classical tripartite typology of States’ human rights obligations, namely, the duty to respect, the duty to protect and the duty to fulfil. The duty to respect means that local authorities must not violate human rights through their own actions.
It requires local government to refrain from interfering with the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms of all persons within its jurisdiction beyond the permissible limitations. The duty to protect requires measures to ensure that third parties do not violate the rights and freedoms of the individual citizens.
For example, local authorities are required to take action to ensure that children are not prevented by others from attending school. The duty to protect can necessitate creating safer urban environments that reduce the risk of violence, for example against women. The duty to fulfil means that local government must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms.
Further, local councils should promote the understanding of and respect for human rights of all individuals within their jurisdiction through education and training. In particular, local authorities should organize, on a systematic basis, human rights training for their elected representatives and staff and the dissemination of relevant information among citizens about their rights. By promoting human rights, local authorities can help build a culture of human rights in the community.