“In Our Own Words” Linking communities with decision makers & the world 


Compiled by Shamiso Mtisi-Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association

Community based human rights training

Community based human rights training is a critical element in capacitating community groups and individuals to assert and claim their rights against state and non-state actors in the natural resources sector. The rights that community members should claim to enjoy are not different from universally accepted human rights. What is important is for community based groups to be aware of these rights and be able to assert them. These rights include political, civil, cultural, economic, environmental and social rights. In this case political and civil rights relate to those rights that are provided for under international and national laws such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Examples include the following rights and protections for all people; right to life, right to personal liberty, protection from slavery and forced labour, protection from inhuman treatment, protection from deprivation of property, freedom of association  and assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and protection from discrimination. These are civil and political rights that community groups and individuals living in natural resource rich areas should also enjoy. State and non-state actors such as mining companies should respect and uphold these rights. In turn community based groups should claim and assert these without fear. The other set of rights that are interconnected with the above include economic, social and cultural rights. The foundation of these rights is the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In this case communities in mining areas should be able to assert their rights against the state and mining companies with regard to the right to work/employment, the right to food, health, clothing, shelter and education among others. These rights entail that even people in rural areas and mining areas deserve an adequate standards of living. Cultural rights include the right of everyone to take part in cultural life and the state has duty to take steps to achieve the full realization of this right and for the conservation, development and diffusion of culture.

Community groups in Marange and Mutoko have been using various strategies to claim some of these rights against mining companies and government. In particular, the Chiadzwa Community Development Trust and community based groups in Mutoko North Constituency have been claiming environmental, economic, social and cultural rights against mining companies that have been extracting mineral resources. ZELA has used various strategies such as community rights training meetings, educational campaigns, advocacy, litigation and conflict resolution to promote and protect these rights.

Community Based Monitoring

Another best practice for promoting community participation and capacity to claim and demand for respect of their rights is community based monitoring. ZELA started pursuing the concept of community monitoring following the difficulties that were being faced by national civil society groups in visiting Marange to gather information on human rights violations. The diamond mining area was declared a protected area and many freedoms were curtailed and this had a negative impact on community livelihoods. Therefore, the solution lied in the concept of community based monitoring. In essence community monitoring involves local residents themselves collecting data and information and reporting as part of efforts to track developments in their community on service provision, environmental issues, politics, economic developments or other issues that are of concern to the community. This means the local community does not rely on outsiders to gather information on what is happening in the community. In a mining area this may include; assessing the impact of mining operations on the environment, human rights abuses, employment/recruitment of locals, relocation/displacements and corporate social responsibility activities among other aspects. Community monitoring can be on the impact of the actions or omissions of state actors or private actors. The information gathered will be used for advocacy or lobbying activities or other actions such as litigation.

The following are the benefits of community based monitoring; it brings community people together to identify common concerns and possible solutions and it ensures that local activists and groups have credible and relevant information on what is happening in the community.  The information can be used for advocating and lobbying for policy, practice and administrative changes. In addition, community monitoring gives local decision-makers the information and tools they need to make informed policy choices and management plans that are adaptive and responsive to community needs. Community monitoring also builds the confidence of communities to question decision makers and mining companies since they will have the information.

In Marange diamond mining area, the Chiadzwa Community Development instituted a community monitoring project with the assistance of ZELA in 2011. In order to improve skills community monitoring training workshops were held to enable community residents to identify and report cases of human rights abuse in their community. Community monitors were trained on the use of various means of information gathering and dissemination such as the use of modern technologies such as SMS, facebook and other social networking methods as well how to use the internet on mobile phones. The community monitors were also trained on data gathering and packaging. The community monitoring initiative enabled the community to gather and collect credible information in Marange on the human rights violations committed by mining companies and state security agents. Some of the information gathered through the community monitoring programme included the number of families relocated to Arda Transau and the problems they are facing, the environmental impacts of mining, abuses of villagers by security guards employed by diamond mining companies, unfair labour practices at diamond mining companies and failure by mining companies to develop local infrastructure. This information was subsequently used by ZELA to give updates to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS).

Community based lobbying and advocacy campaigns

There are various strategies and tools that have been used by community based organisations to achieve change and reforms of policies and practice at the local level. What this entails is that since most CBOs are agents of change at the grassroots level and are expected to assert community rights, they should also adopt strategies to engage and influence decisions by local authorities, government departments, local politicians, traditional leaders and the local elites. CBOs should be able to identify the problems they would want the authorities to address before taking any action. In some projects that have been implemented by ZELA some of the problems that have been identified by communities on which advocacy actions were taken included; lack of access to clean water, shortage of school books, shortage of drugs at the local clinics, food insecurity due to drought or floods, water pollution from mining activities, poor waste collection services in urban areas or electricity shortages, poor road network and limited economic benefits accruing to the community from natural resources extraction (e.g. in wildlife management in Mbire District and mining in Marange and Mutoko).

What was also observed to be a good practice is for the CBOs to develop a set of policy or practical solutions they think can address the problem identified. It is important for CBOs to identify where and when they have a chance to influence policy, legal processes or administrative changes. In advocacy work, relationship analysis is also a key to identifying the people or organizations or institutions that can help the CBO to influence change. More importantly, some of the activities that have been used by CBOs to influence change at the grassroots level in Marange include;  grassroots based research on the problem, organizing outreach meetings for parliamentarians, networking with other civil society organisations, petition writing to decision makers, protests, press releases in the media, phone calls and letters and  class action lawsuits/litigation. As a result community groups from Marange and Mutoko have been involved in policy processes that are aimed at improving transparency and accountability in the mining sector such as the Zimbabwe Revenue Transparency Initiative (ZMRTI), the constitutional reforms and the formulation of the Diamond Policy. 

Litigation/Class Action

ZELA strongly believes and also observed that litigation is a key strategy that can be effectively used by community based groups to trigger respect and realization of economic, social and cultural rights. It is one of the key strategies that can be used to defend and protect the rights of the marginalized and vulnerable people in society. It involves using the courts as the defender of human rights. In this case a community based group can take legal action on behalf of the whole community being affected by the wrongful act of government or a mining company. Litigation that is taken by an individual or a group of people on behalf of a broader community is called a class action as a way to enforce their rights through the legal process. Through a class action, an individual or a community based group may seek legal redress by applying for a court order to stop an action or omission by any person that may infringe their rights or can claim for damages for any harm that may have been suffered.  The best way for community groups to embark on litigation is to work with civil society groups that provide public interest litigation. One of the primary reasons why public interest litigation should be used in Zimbabwe is the fact that poor and vulnerable communities and individuals often lack the knowledge and resources to challenge government actions and decisions or laws that infringe their rights. Neither are many of the poor villagers whose rights are often violated aware of the international commitments made by the country to respect economic, social and cultural rights and the fact that these rights can be claimed and enforced through the courts. Fear to bring government and multinational and local companies involved in human rights violations to account is also a factor that inhibits the realization of community rights in Zimbabwe.

ZELA has used public interest litigation as a means to demand the rights of relocated families in Marange. However, it was noted that litigation should be complemented by advocacy campaigns to build pressure of decision makers and government to implement court decisions.

Transparency and Accountability in the Mining Sector

Over the past years ZELA has also observed that it is important for community groups to join the calls for mining companies and government to be transparent and accountable in the mining sector. Mining companies and government should demonstrate commitment to these principles by disclosing all mining contracts and revenue paid and received in the mining sector and how it is being used in a publicly accessible manner. This will at least discourage corruption and secrecy. The key components for a transparent system in the mining sector are public participation in decision-making, access to information and access to justice. This means there is need to promote access to information, open debate and dialogue on mining contracts and revenue distribution and use. In this case community groups should call decision makers, mining companies and government to account so that revenue is used for community infrastructure development, poverty reduction, improving standards of living and generally fulfilment of the economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of citizens.

In calling for transparency and accountability in the mining sector the best strategy for community based groups is to join initiatives such as the Publish What You Pay (PWYP)-Zimbabwe chapter. The PWYP campaign is a global coalition of civil society organisations that are calling on government and mining companies to be transparent by disclosing mining contracts and revenues so that the public is aware of how much money is being generated. The coalition stresses that companies should publish what they pay and governments should “publish what they earn”.Community based groups should join the PWYP since it is a social movement. In Zimbabwe PWYP is being led by ZELA. In addition, the community groups can also call the government and mining companies to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) which is an international initiative that encourages government and mining companies to disclose payments and revenues from mining.

Participatory public expenditure and budget tracking and monitoring

Over the past years ZELA has also observed that in order to trigger investment for improved community development and service delivery one of the best strategies that should be adopted by community groups is quantitatively and qualitatively assessment and monitoring of budget allocations and expenditures by government and local authorities. It is important for community groups to assess how responsive the local and national budgets are to the needs and expectations of poor and low income communities. This means community groups should work with other civil society organisations on national budgeting processes so as to understand the budget allocations, expenditure and investments priorities. In sum, the best approach to understand the major cause of environmental and social injustice is to look at the economic side natural resources especially budget allocations and public expenditure. Therefore, community based groups should initiate budget monitoring projects.

Skills Exchange and Learning Programmes

Another important strategy that can build community capacity is skills exchange and learning visits to other communities inside or outside Zimbabwe. In this case community groups can learn the best methods being used by other groups to claim and demand their rights. In 2011 community groups from Mutoko, Marange and Mbire visited different countries during exchange visits that were facilitated by ZELA. The participants visited countries such as South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Malawi. During these visits the community groups met other community groups who are equally affected by mining projects and managed to exchange experiences, ideas and strategies to assert and claim their environmental, economic, social and cultural rights in the natural resources sector.

To a larger extent, skills share and learning visits are a good practice on sharing knowledge and experiences on how to deal with the negative impacts of mining on communities.  In particular, community groups can learn from each other on various aspects such as litigation strategies, advocacy strategies, community monitoring, corporate social responsibility and how to engage mining companies and government departments. The best way to organise a skills share and leaning exchange programme is to design it in a way that enables learning and sharing both from a theoretical and practical perspective. This means community groups can hold meetings and field visits to assess the impacts of mining or natural resources extraction. For example the people of Marange learnt a lot when they visited Bafokeng community in South Africa on income generation and community based monitoring. Consequently, the Chiadzwa Community Development Trust started a community monitoring project which entails collecting information on the impacts of mining on people’s lives and using the information for advocacy purposes.

Income generation

ZELA observed that in order to ensure that community projects are sustainable after the end of a donor funded project, the best strategy is to encourage community groups to embark on income generating activities. In urban areas such as Dzivarasekwa and Epworth members of environmental action groups are earning income from waste management projects. These were all registered by ZELA. In Kanyemba in Mbire District a community group that was registered by ZELA is also involved in cattle rearing while another group in Mbire is involved in wildlife management and tourism. These projects are relevant since they create employment opportunities in the community. In order to be successful, CBOs requires strong financial systems that comply with basic financial standards. This can be achieved by training on financial management and resource mobilisation.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.