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of human rights issues in Zimbabwe
Human Rights Watch
Extracted from Human Rights Watch World Report 2006
Rights Watch World Report 2006 (2.38MB)
erosion of human rights in Zimbabwe was highlighted in 2005 by Operation
Murambatsvina, the government’s program of mass evictions and demolitions
which began in May, and, which, according to the United Nations,
deprived 700,000 men, women and children of their homes, their livelihoods,
or both throughout the country. The evictions and demolitions occurred
against a background of general dissatisfaction in many of Zimbabwe’s
urban areas over the political and economic situation in the country.
The country is currently spiraling into a huge economic and political
The government continues to introduce repressive laws that suppress
criticism of its political and economic policies. In August, parliament
passed the Constitutional Amendment Act, which gives the government
the right to expropriate land and property without the possibility
of judicial appeal, and to withdraw passports from those it deems
a threat to national security.
Evictions and Demolitions
The government’s policy of forced evictions and demolition of homes
and informal business structures carried out in Zimbabwe’s urban
areas with little or no warning violated the rights of hundreds
of thousands of Zimbabweans. Police used excessive force to destroy
houses and structures and in some cases police armed with guns and
truncheons, threatened and assaulted people. The evictions and demolitions
led to widespread homelessness, lack of freedom of movement, loss
of livelihood and minimal access to food, water, health care, education,
and justice for hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans. Tens of thousands
of homes, and hundreds 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 was unprecedented, and the victims were mainly the poor
and vulnerable in Zimbabwe’s cities and towns including widows,
children, elderly and chronically ill persons. The evictions led
to the disruption of anti-retroviral therapies and treatment of
opportunistic infection for those living with HIV/AIDS.
Thousands of people remain homeless and displaced by the evictions
with no shelter and little or no access to food, water and medical
assistance. To date noone has received any housing under the Zimbabwe
government’s Operation Garikai program, ostensibly initiated to
provide accommodation to all persons made homeless by the evictions.
The Zimbabwean government has not investigated reports of excessive
use of force by the police or brought the perpetrators to justice.
Blocking of Humanitarian Assistance
The government’s refusal to cooperate with a United Nations emergency
appeal for the hundreds of thousands affected by the evictions worsened
their plight. On August 29, the U.N. Under-Secretary General for
Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland condemned the lack of cooperation
from the government with regard to mitigating the effects of the
evictions, and accused it of hampering efforts to aid those affected.
The government continues to obstruct the provision of humanitarian
assistance by local and international humanitarian agencies to internally
displaced and evicted populations. On October 31, 2005, the U.N.
Secretary General Kofi Annan made a heartfelt appeal calling on
the government to allow U.N. agencies and other humanitarian agencies
access to help those made homeless by Operation Murambatsvina.
In addition, an estimated 2.9 million people across Zimbabwe were
in need of food aid by the end of September. However, despite the
serious food shortages, the government of Zimbabwe refused to make
a formal appeal for food aid from the World Food Program.
The humanitarian situation has also been exacerbated by Zimbabwe’s
failing economy. In September 2005, inflation reached 359.8 percent
and unemployment was at 80 percent. Although some reports suggest
that the rate of HIV infections has recently decreased, the issue
of HIV/AIDS is still of critical concern with almost 1.8 million
people infected with HIV/AIDS (more than 20 percent of all adults)
and nearly one million children orphaned. The government was saved
from expulsion from the International Monetary Fund in September
when it managed to repay a total of U.S. $135 million in debts.
There has been no thaw in relations between the opposition and the
ruling party. Tensions between the two main parties were heightened
by the result of parliamentary elections which took place in March
2005. The ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front
won the elections but the opposition Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC) declared that the elections were not free and fair. In the
run up to the elections, Human Rights Watch documented a series
of human rights violations, including political intimidation of
opponents by ruling party supporters, electoral irregularities,
and the use of repressive legislation by the government. Local civil
society organizations, international organizations, including Amnesty
International and International Crisis Group, and the international
community including the European Union (E.U.), and the governments
of the United Kingdom and the United States widely criticized the
elections. The African Union (A.U.), the Southern African Development
Community and South African observer teams, however, endorsed the
election results. Senate elections were scheduled to take place
on November 26, and triggered serious divisions within the MDC over
whether or not to participate in the elections. The disagreements
subsequently led to the expulsion of 26 members from the party,
who decided to contest the elections against the wishes of other
party members and leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Repressive Legislation and Human Rights Defenders
The situation of human rights defenders and journalists in Zimbabwe
remains precarious. The Constitutional Amendment Act has been added
to a raft of laws that restrict the human rights of those who criticize
the government and try to protect human rights in Zimbabwe. Apart
from allowing the government to expropriate land and property without
recourse to the courts, the act also allows the government to withdraw
passports from those it deems to be a threat to security, thus restricting
the rights to freedom of movement of any government critics or human
Human rights groups continue to work in a highly restrictive environment.
The government uses repressive laws such as the Public Order and
Security Act to restrict the right to freedom of assembly, association,
and expression of civil society activists and the opposition. Although
President Robert Mugabe did not sign the restrictive Non-Governmental
Organization Act into law, its existence has had a detrimental effect
on the ability of human rights groups to operate freely, as they
fear that the Act may be revived and lead to their shutting down.
Key International Actors
In response to the mass forced evictions, in May 2005 U.N. Secretary
General Kofi Annan appointed a special envoy, Anna Tibaijuka, to
investigate. Her strongly-worded report, released on July 22, concluded
that the evictions were carried out in an "indiscriminate and
unjustified manner" and recommended that those found responsible
for the evictions be brought to justice. The government of Zimbabwe
strongly refuted the U.N.’s findings and claimed that the evictions
were lawful and that the U.N. had exaggerated both the scale of
the evictions and the numbers of persons affected.
Western governments, in particular the governments of the United
States, United Kingdom, and other European Union governments, also
condemned the mass evictions. Many African governments once again
refused to publicly condemn human rights violations in Zimbabwe
and chose to remain silent on the issue of the evictions. The South
African government indicated that it would await the U.N. report
on the crisis before responding but did not do so. Although the
South African government has expressed some concern with the human
rights conditions in Zimbabwe, it continues to exercise a policy
of ‘quiet diplomacy’ in its dealings with the government, an approach
which has to date yielded few tangible results.
Attempts by African governments and the African Union to address
Zimbabwe’s human rights crisis have so far yielded little. In August,
the government of Zimbabwe refused to accept the A.U. appointment
of former president Joachim Chissano as an envoy to broker talks
between the ruling party and the opposition MDC, claiming that such
talks would not be taking place. The commendable effort by African
Union Commission Chair Alpha Oumar Konare to appoint a special envoy
to investigate the evictions was blocked by the Zimbabwe government,
which refused to grant the envoy permission to investigate, until
he was forced to leave the country on July 7, 2005. The Zimbabwe
government claimed that the African Union had failed to follow protocol
in sending the envoy to investigate the evictions. The Southern
African Development Community also failed to discuss Zimbabwe at
its annual summit in August. In general, there has been a lack of
sustained attention from African governments to the crisis in Zimbabwe.
The United Kingdom and other E.U. governments have provided some
humanitarian aid to address the crisis caused by the evictions.
However, donors have become increasingly frustrated by the government’s
obduracy in dealing comprehensively with the humanitarian crisis
caused by the evictions. The government’s refusal to sign a U.N.
emergency appeal to help those affected by the evictions and to
make a formal appeal for food aid added to already existing tensions
with western governments.
Western governments, in particular the United Kingdom and the United
States, have failed to convince other influential governments (especially
those in the South) to take a stronger stand on Zimbabwe at forums
such as the U.N. Security Council. China, Russia and other African
countries state that Zimbabwe does not warrant discussions at the
Security Council because they claim it is not a threat to international
peace or security.
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