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Raft of laws flouted in clean-up
Ray Matikinye, The Zimbabwe Independent
July 22, 2005

GOVERNMENT violated a raft of international conventions and national laws when it launched its widely-criticised slum clearance operation, a rights lobby, the Southern African Human Rights Trust (Sahrit) has said.

Sahrit says government grossly dishonoured education, health and housing rights entrenched in various international conventions and disregarded its own laws when it carried out its Operation Murambatsvina. The organisation is also disturbed by the inappropriateness of national laws used to carry out the exercise.

According to Sahrit, the slum clearance blitz violated the right to housing as provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), particularly regarding the Rights of Women in Africa.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has addressed the question of forced evictions in Resolution 1993/77.

Operation Murambatsvina violated the right to health which is considered as "indispensable for the enjoyment of other rights".

This right, Sahrit points out, is provided for in Article 14 of the ACRWC, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), the ACHPR, the Protocol to the ACHPR on the Rights of Women in Africa, as well as the constitution of the World Health Organisation.

The UN Commission on Human Rights has specifically addressed the issue of access to medication in the context of pandemics such as HIV and Aids. The state should at all times ensure accessibility to medication by all those in need of it.

Sahrit notes that a number of people affected by the clean-up were infected and affected by Aids and some were on programmes for ARVs.

By moving people arbitrarily, it affected the number of social programmes that had been in place to deal with the issues of HIV and Aids and exposed them to danger by simply stopping access to drugs without following proper drug termination procedures.

The right to education is provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and Article 11 of the ACRWC.

In this regard the contents of the Unesco Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) as well as General Comment 1 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child provide useful insight on what constitutes an appropriate policy on the observance of the right of children to access education.

In an analysis of the exercise, Sahrit was concerned that the state flouted obligations it voluntarily assumed under the United Nations Charter and various regional and international instruments to which it is a party.

A fact that worried Sahrit most is that Operation Murambatsvina appeared to violate provisions of Zimbabwe's own legislation, notably Section 32 of the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act, which provides for, among other things, notice before any evictions can be effected.

"Suggestions by the government in parliament that it is not violating international law are incorrect," Sahrit said.

"The fact that Zimbabwe is comparatively better off than many African countries in terms of infrastructural development cannot detract from the fact that Operation Murambatsvina has rendered many families destitute, compromised the right to health and the right to education, and that the operation is inconsistent with the human rights obligations attendant on the government."

It notes that the arguments by the state that Operation Murambatsvina is purely an internal matter notwithstanding the human rights dimension of the exercise is misplaced.

Says Sahrit: "We find both the process and the outcome of this exercise objectionable and wish to make plain the fact that human rights are no longer the preserve of national governments; this now being a matter of legitimate international concern."

A body of experts mandated to interpret and supervise the implementation of the exercise has already declared the indiscriminate destruction of homes by a state in the absence of simultaneous provision of alternative accommodation to be inconsistent with the obligation to respect the right to shelter or housing.

Sahrit also notes that a number of the properties that have been destroyed were destroyed in circumstances where the state had given beneficiaries assurances that it would waive its right to strictly enforce the law.

This was the case in respect of all those housing co-operatives that were set up with the knowledge of the state and commissioned by ministers and senior government officials. It noted that some of the housing co-operatives had been or were about to be properly registered with the relevant authorities.

"It is our view that in such cases, rather than evict the owners and destroy the structures, the owners should have been given an opportunity to regularise the structures and in so doing avoid a situation of homelessness," Sahrit notes.

Sahrit blames local authorities for failing to cope with housing demands, thereby forcing the homeless to resort to build structures within their means. High inflation made it increasingly difficult for low-income earners to meet construction standards. It cites Porta Farm that has been in existence for more than 13 years and Hatcliffe Extension settlement for more than 10 years as examples of state duplicity.

"It is noteworthy that some of the homes that have been destroyed were in fact established with the full knowledge and/or acquiescence of the state," Sahrit says.

The organisation questions why local authorities found it legal to collect rentals for the sub-standard structures and when it became convenient to deem them illegal settlements fit for demolition.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a coalition of NGOs in the human rights sector, recently called on government "to bring an immediate halt to all forced evictions until such time as a planned and humane relocation can take place; to end the forced relocation of persons to the rural areas; to allow immediate and unrestricted access by churches and non-governmental organisations to affected persons so that humanitarian assistance may be given to those affected; to allow a full and independent audit of the consequences of the forced evictions; to investigate all allegations of unlawful deprivation of property and to prosecute all alleged offenders; to make full restitution of all property illegally confiscated; and to provide full compensation to all persons whose property was illegally damaged or destroyed".

Meanwhile, renowned Nigerian poet and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka said President Robert Mugabe has lost his bearings.

"A great revolutionary, a liberation fighter has become a monster. He is behaving like a colonialist," Soyinka said in Cape Town.

African leaders should have the courage to sanction Zimbabwe by refusing to give it loans, he said.

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