Compiled by Lincoln Majogo
On Thursday the 31st of March this year, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) launched the Youth Initiative Campaign (YICA). The event which was also streamed online garnered participation from across the borders and received massive endorsements from the youth. But what really is YICA? More importantly, is it even relevant? If so, how? This article seeks to answer these questions by explaining the purpose behind the YICA and the mandate that it seeks to fulfill.
The YICA is a youth-led movement that seeks to lobby for corporate accountability in environmental related activities. Such activities include mining, farming, and wildlife related work. It should be noted that whilst Zimbabwe possesses within its reach an arsenal of regulatory laws for sustainable development, implementation has been a mammoth task, giving corporates free tickets out of jail but leaving citizens vulnerable to several hazards.
On 19 August 2021, Zimbabwe ratified the Minamata Convention which outlawed the use of mercury in mining operations. However, reports suggest that the substance is still being used creating dangers to public health. Mercury is notoriously popular amongst small-scale gold miners who use it to find gold. However, mercury can cause severe damage to human and animal health. The use of the substance can cause kidney damage, impaired vision and the death of human and animal life.
The Zimbabwean court as well as the African courts have consistently held that human rights are indivisible, intertwined, and interdependent on one another. Thus, the violation of one right leads to the violation of another. The contamination of water bodies by mercury is not only a violation of the right to access clean water but also a violation of the right to health and property (i.e communities’ animals will also die or fall sick if they drink from the contaminated water bodies). The right to life is also infringed. As stated by the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights General Comment 3 on the right to life, this right includes not only the ability to exist but to lead a quality life. Hence communities need to be aware of the importance of protecting a singular right because it also affects other composite rights.
Whilst not related to mercury, the famous American case of Anderson, et al. v Pacific Gas & Electric portrayed in the movie Erin Brockovich, reminds us of the unfortunate effects of unregulated corporate activity. In that case, Pacific Gas used a substance in its operations that contaminated groundwater and caused diseases to the public including cancer. The company was successfully sued leading to a settlement of 333 million USD in favor of the plaintiffs. However, some health conditions were irreversible regardless of the settlement. The case just goes to illustrate the importance of citizens knowing their rights because it empowers them to fight for their human rights before it’s too late.
The YICA is therefore a mechanism to bring corporates to account. It is aimed at disseminating information to the public thus bringing enlightenment with regards to the importance of lobbying for change. The purpose of the movement is to encourage sustainable development in corporate activities, such as mining or farming. As seen from the Pacific and Gas case, citizens need not wait until the last hour to remedy an infringement to their human rights but should take action as soon as the need arises, to defend and protect their rights.
In addition to giving birth to the YIC, ZELA launched Envirobot 2.0, which is a WhatsApp user interface application in which any person with grievances regarding possible or actual violation of human rights can contact the organization for help. The Envirobot application is precisely designed to facilitate for digitalized public access to a platform for seeking remedy and redress,in instances whereby a violation of Environmental, Economic, Social and Cultural (EESC) rights occurs.
It should be noted that section 85 of the Constitution allows for a person acting in the interests of the public to represent a group of vulnerable citizens. In Mudzuri Tsopodzi v Minister of Home Affairs CCZ 12-15, the Constitutional court of Zimbabwe affirmed this position by positing that section 85 is designed to assist the indigent in defending their rights. ZELA stands as one of those organizations that take a serious interest in public litigation to protect human rights.
How does it work?
- The WhatsApp number is 0777 105 943.
- Save it on your phone.
- Send a message for example, “hi”.
- You will get an instant response asking you to select a language of your choice.
- Type the language of your choice for example, English.
- You will receive an instant response with 4 options to choose from.
- Type 1, which is the option to access Envirobot services.
- You will receive another instant response asking you to select the province within which you are staying in.
- Select the province of your choice and you can report a case.
Admittedly, youth have raised issues regarding to confidentiality of communications between users and the organization. It should be noted that communications will be protected by the attorney-client privilege. The net effect of this privilege is that the information cannot be used in court unless the client (the user) consents. The primary basis of having the privilege in our nation is to encourage free communication between clients and the organization without fear of reprisal. Moreover, WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted, which means unless the mobile device falls into the wrong hands, the communication is protected from interference by third parties.
Access to WhatsApp
It is also noted that not everyone in Zimbabwe has access to WhatsApp. A substantial number the citizens have no access to devices that support WhatsApp. The concerns from youth are valid and our technical team in charge of creating the software is in the process of trying to create a similar system but accessible through SMS messages.
Youths now bear the burden to spread the good news of the YICA& Envirobot. The platform is free and accessible to anyone and everyone. As stated already, the platform’s purpose is not only to allow the marginalized communities to report and have effective remedies against human rights violations, but also to increase the youth’s voice in lobbying for accountability and sustainability with regards to environmental sustainability.