Individual Freedoms & State Security in the African Context: The Case of Zimbabwe

By John Hatchard | Go to book overview

13 Safeguarding Individual Freedoms:
National & International
Institutions

In the previous chapter it was seen that the development of effective constitutional, legislative and judicial safeguards for individual freedoms are possible even during a state of emergency. These are complemented by two other safeguards, the first of which is the office of the ombudsman.


Individual Freedoms and the Ombudsman 1

The classic definition of the ombudsman comes from the International Bar Association:

An office provided for by the constitution or by action of the legislature or parliament and headed by an independent, high-level public official who is responsible to the legislature or parliament, who receives complaints from aggrieved persons against government agencies, officials, and employees or who acts on his own motion, and who has the power to investigate, recommend corrective action, and issue reports. 2

Thus the aim of the office is the pursuit of administrative justice in a manner which is confidential, informal and flexible. Any person who claims to have suffered injustice at the hands of a government official may complain to the ombudsman and ask for an investigation into the matter. If the case is accepted, an investigation is undertaken in private and free of charge. As a permanent independent statutory (and often constitutionally established) institution, the office is potentially a most effective investigatory body operating within — although not being a part of — government. This is because wide-ranging investigative powers give an ombudsman unique access to government documents and officials and allows for the development of personal contacts with high-ranking government officials which can often swiftly resolve a complaint. In addition, government officials are often cooperative once it is realised that the office is also an important protection for them against unfounded, malicious or unfair attacks.

In recent years the number of countries which have introduced the office has increased markedly. Between 1966 and 1990 over eighty national and provincial offices were set up worldwide including several in Africa. In 1965 in Tanzania the report of the Presidential Commission on the Establishment of a One Party State examined the reasons for the establishment of such an office, and these remain relevant for many African nations:

In a rapidly developing country it is inevitable that many officials, both of Government and of the ruling Party, should be authorised to exercise wide discretionary powers. Decisions taken by such officials can, however, have the most serious consequences for the individual, and the Commission is aware that there is already a good deal of

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