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Operation Murambatsvina - Countrywide evictions of urban poor - Index of articles
the Filth" - Mass evictions and demolitions in Zimbabwe
Human Rights Watch
September 11, 2005
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Watch statement: Zimbabwe:
Mass evictions lead to massive abuses
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On May 19th, the government of Zimbabwe launched
Operation Murambatsvina (Clear the Filth), a program of forcible
eviction and demolition of tens of thousands of houses and informal
building structures of urban residents in Zimbabwe. With little,
or in some cases, no warning, often with great brutality and in
complete contravention of national and international standards,
tens of thousands of homes, and thousands of informal business properties
as well as legal housing and business structures were destroyed
without regard for the rights or welfare of those who were evicted.
The scale of
destruction is unprecedented in Zimbabwe. Indeed, there are few,
if any precedents of a government so forcibly and brutally displacing
so many of its own citizens in peacetime. The victims are mainly
the poor and vulnerable in Zimbabwe's cities and towns, many of
the households already devastated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The United Nations
Special Envoy, Anna Tibaijuka, sent by UN Secretary General Kofi
Annan, reported that the operation was carried out in "an indiscriminate
and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering and,
in repeated cases, with disregard to several provisions of national
and international legal frameworks."
UN estimates, 700,000 people—nearly 6 percent of the total population—have
been forcibly evicted from their homes, made homeless or lost their
source of livelihood since May 19, 2005 while 2.4 million people—some
18 percent of the population—have been either directly or indirectly
affected by Operation Murambatsvina.
authorities claim that the destruction of homes and other properties
is part of a long-term plan to clean up the urban areas, restore
order, rid the cities of criminal elements and restore dignity to
the people. There are many alternative analyses of Operation Murambatsvina,
several of which allege that the operation was part of the government's
efforts to intimidate the urban poor and prevent mass uprisings
against the deteriorating political and economic conditions in high
density urban areas.
true justification for the widespread demolitions and evictions,
the government has violated the human rights of hundreds of thousands
of its own citizens by arbitrarily forcing them to destroy or cede
their property without due notice, process or compensation; by forcibly
displacing many of them against their will into the rural areas
without any basic services such as health care, education, clean
water or means of economic support; by restricting their freedom
of movement; and by failing to provide adequate remedies to those
whose rights were violated.
consequences of the operation have been catastrophic. Thousands
of people—some living with HIV/AIDS—are living in the open without
shelter or basic services; many receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS,
including children, have lost access to the clinics and centres
that were providing them with treatment, with serious repercussions
for their long term health. Inevitably, the most affected have been
those already vulnerable: children with disabilities; child headed
households; widows and people living with HIV/AIDS. And to add insult
to injury, the Zimbabwean government, angry with the United Nations
in particular at the harsh words of the Special Envoy's report,
has refused to co-operate with the UN humanitarian agencies seeking
to bring assistance to those who have been evicted and left destitute.
already in a profound political economic and human rights crisis—created
by a government with a well known record of abusing its own citizens.
This latest human rights catastrophe can only push the country closer
to total devastation. With acute food shortages looming in the rural
areas, the government’s call for a mass return to the rural areas
is a recipe for humanitarian disaster.
tells the stories of the mass evictions and house demolitions and
the continuing suffering of those affected, mostly in the words
of victims. Women, children and men recount how they were forced
to destroy their own houses, often at gunpoint. They describe how
the police in some cases beat them if they did not tear down their
own houses and how their homes and sometimes their possessions were
destroyed by bulldozers and armed police carrying pickaxes and hammers,
or burnt and razed to the ground. They tell how the evictions were
carried out with little or no warning and how police gave them almost
no time to collect their belongings and leave their homes. And they
tell, in often heartbreaking detail, of their destitution and utter
vulnerability, in the light of the government’s indifference to
Watch calls on the government of Zimbabwe to urgently co-operate
with the international community and to ensure complete and unrestricted
humanitarian access to all those affected. It also calls on the
government to respect the right to freedom of movement, and take
immediate action to provide legal remedies and necessary compensation
including alternative accommodation to those that have been affected
by the evictions in compliance with national, regional and international
human rights standards. The use of excessive force by the police
and other human rights abuses related to the evictions should be
immediately investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.
community, especially regional bodies such as the African Union
and the Southern Africa Development Community and neighbouring countries
must exert far more sustained political pressure on the Zimbabwean
government to rein in the government’s excesses and to call for
accountability for those responsible for planning and executing
Operation Murambatsvina. Given the lack of credibility of the Zimbabwean
justice system, only an independent, international inquiry can be
trusted to establish the truth and identify the perpetrators.
In June 2005,
Human Rights Watch spent two and a half weeks in Harare and Mutare
in Zimbabwe, and interviewed ninety-three Zimbabweans including
sixty victims and witnesses to the evictions, representatives from
nongovernmental organizations and international humanitarian organizations
including the United Nations; lawyers, church representatives, local
city council officials, human rights activists and monitors, and
embassy representatives. Names of victims and witnesses have been
changed to protect their identities.
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