Constitutional amendment to restrict travel

The Zimbabwean government has dug in its heels over proposed constitutional amendments and challenged its critics to take their concerns to parliament.

Human rights activists and lawyers have slammed the controversial Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No.17 Bill of 2005, labelling it the latest in a long line of alterations to the constitution.

Zimbabwe's fundamental law has been amended 16 times by the ruling ZANU-PF government, the most notable being the abolition of the Prime Minister's position, which led to the creation of an Executive Presidency in 1987.

Under the draft Bill the government seeks the power to restrict freedom of movement in the name of national interest and security. If passed, the proposed legislation will give the state the right to suspend or withdraw the travel documents of citizens.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told IRIN on Thursday that there was no need for law-abiding citizens to worry about the proposed changes because they were aimed at improving national security.

"All laws are created to protect national interests and this is just one of them. The restrictions on travel and movement are not new, as it is normal procedure for any suspects to be placed under such conditions," Chinamasa said.

"The Bill is due in parliament, possibly this week. There is no need to discuss anything about it until it goes through parliament. Those complaining about it should make their representations to the parliamentary portfolio committee on justice, legal and parliamentary affairs," he added.

Chinamasa would not be drawn on the criteria for determining whether an individual or group posed a threat to "national interest".

In representations to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs last week, Zimbabwe Human Rights Lawyers (ZHRL), a civic group, complained that travel restrictions were likely to be used against opposition party members and civil rights activists, who have been critical of Harare's policies.

Since March 2001, ZANU-PF legislators have argued for the confinement of opposition leaders who enjoy political links and travel rights to countries considered active in maintaining targeted sanctions against some top ruling party officials.

Despite the concerns raised by the opposition and civil society groups, the Bill is expected to sail through parliament, which is dominated by the ZANU-PF.