Zimbabwe: Activists say rights enshrined in new constitution are hindered by old laws


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JOHANNESBURG — Hundreds of old laws in Zimbabwe need to be changed to conform with the southern African nation's year old constitution, which guarantees democratic rights but faces problems in its implementation, activists said Wednesday.

Civic leaders from Zimbabwe said in Johannesburg that there was a growing debate about the discrepancy between the old legal framework and the constitution, which was adopted in a referendum in March 2013. In July of that year, President Robert Mugabe won another term of office in elections that the opposition charged were marred by fraud.

"There is no structure in Zimbabwe to oversee the implementation of the new constitution," said Dewa Mavhinga, regional coordinator for the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

The constitution guarantees the right to basic services such as water and health care, but economic decline and corruption hinder the government's ability to care for its citizens, Mavhinga said.

In another legal mismatch, he said, the constitution says the minimum age that a person can marry is 18 years old, while existing laws still say a young woman can be given in marriage at the age of 16.

The constitution guarantees the right of Zimbabweans to have passports, but the main passport office in Harare is struggling to deal with long lines of people who hope to get their documents, said Blessing Gorejena, a representative of the Zimbabwe NGO-Forum.

Also, the government has yet to act on a constitutional provision calling for a "peace and reconciliation" panel that would investigate human rights violations, including those committed during elections in 2008, Gorejena said.

Violent, disputed elections in 2008 led regional leaders to forge an uneasy coalition between Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, an opposition leader who became prime minister in the power-sharing deal but who is once again out of the government.

Human rights groups blamed the military and police for much of the 2008 violence in which hundreds of opposition supporters were killed.

Mugabe had said the new constitution showed that Zimbabweans were united, regardless of political affiliation, and that the charter was achieved without outside interference. The new constitution limits the presidency to two five-year terms but is not retroactive, allowing Mugabe to run and win again last year. Mugabe will be eligible for another term which, if he wins, would keep him in power to the age of 99.

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