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Stinging UN report condemns evictions
- Despite a UN report condemning the Zimbabwean government's programme
of forced evictions that has affected 700,000 people, Local Government
and Housing Minister Ignatius Chombo has defended the operation.
Chombo, a key proponent of Operation Murambatsvina ('Clean Out Garbage'),
told IRIN that the people evicted from their homes were in illegal
settlements, "and I don't think the UN can sanction illegality".
The report by UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka called
on the government to stop the demolitions of homes and markets,
pay reparations to those who had lost housing and livelihoods and
punish those who, "with indifference to human suffering" carried
out the evictions, according to the UN news service.
"The government of Zimbabwe should set a good example and adhere
to the rule of law before it can credibly ask its citizens to do
the same. Operation Restore Order breached both national and international
human rights law provisions guiding evictions, thereby precipitating
a humanitarian crisis," Tibaijuka said in her report to UN Secretary-General
Annan called the report "profoundly distressing", saying the evictions
had done "a catastrophic injustice to as many as 700,000 of Zimbabwe's
poorest citizens, through indiscriminate actions, carried out with
disquieting indifference to human suffering".
The hard-hitting report said that as many as 2.4 million people
have been affected to varying degrees by an operation conducted
by the police and army "at a time of persistent budget deficits,
triple-digit inflation, critical food and fuel shortages and chronic
shortages of foreign currency".
It added: "It was implemented in a highly polarised political climate
characterised by mistrust, fear and a lack of dialogue between government
and local authorities, and between the former and civil society."
"Hundreds of thousands of women, men and children were made homeless,
without access to food, water and sanitation, or health care. Education
for thousands of school age children has been disrupted," the report
"Many of the sick, including those with HIV and AIDS, no longer
have access to care. The vast majority of those directly and indirectly
affected are the poor and disadvantaged segments of the population.
They are, today, deeper in poverty, deprivation and destitution,
and have been rendered more vulnerable."
It noted: "The humanitarian consequences of Operation Restore Order
are enormous. It will take several years before the people and society
as a whole can recover. There is an
immediate need for the government of Zimbabwe to recognise the virtual
state of emergency that has resulted, and to allow unhindered access
by the international and humanitarian community to assist those
that have been affected."
Chombo sidestepped the criticism and focused on the government's
new corrective programme Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle ('Stay
well') to develop housing. "Our people are much happier because
the government is giving them land, they are getting stands, and
are getting government assistance."
While 10,000 plots have been earmarked on one site outside the capital,
Harare, and others are being developed, critics have questioned
whether the cash-strapped government has the money to pay for the
US $300 million programme, and why Operation Murambatsvina was launched
before alternative accommodation was available for those displaced.
After a two-week fact-finding visit this month, Tibaijuka said the
operation was based on colonial-era Rhodesian law and policy that
had been "a tool of segregation and social exclusion", and called
on President Robert Mugabe to bring national laws into line with
the realities of the country's poor and international law.
She noted that Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle was beyond the capacity
of the government to implement, and appealed to the international
community to mobilise immediate aid to avert further suffering.
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