Zimbabwe’s evictions carried out with ‘indifference to human suffering,’ UN envoy says

Anna Tibaijuka

22 July 2005 – A United Nations report released today calls on the Government of Zimbabwe to stop the demolition of homes and markets, pay reparations to those who have lost housing and livelihoods and punish those who, “with indifference to human suffering,” carried out the evictions of some 700,000 people.

“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,” UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka says in her report to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Mr. 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.”

He called on the Government to stop the operation and to make sure that “those who orchestrated this ill-advised policy are held fully accountable for their actions.”

After a two-week fact-finding visit to the southern African country, Ms. Tibaijuka says Operation Restore Order, or Operation Murambatsvina, was based on colonial-era Rhodesian law and policy that had been “a tool of segregation and social exclusion” and she calls on the Government of President Robert Mugabe to bring the national laws into line with the realities of the country’s poor and with international law.

Though the Government is collectively responsible for the disastrous results, evidence suggests that “there was no collective decision-making” about the conception and implementation, enforced by the police and military, and the “few architects of the operation” should be held to account, Ms. Tibaijuka says.

The corrective programme, Operation Garikai (Rebuilding and Reconstruction), is beyond the best efforts of the Government of Zimbabwe, she says, and she appeals to the international community to mobilize immediate aid and avert further suffering.

Ms. Tibaijuka, who visited Zimbabwe as Mr. Annan’s Special Envoy, criss-crossed the country, holding town hall meetings and talking to local and national officials.

The operation, “while purporting to target illegal dwellings and structures and to clamp down on alleged illicit activities” was carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, she says in the report.

“The humanitarian consequences of Operation Restore Order are enormous,” she says. “It will take several years before the people and society as a whole can recover.”

At the same time, the evictions have wrecked the informal sector and will be detrimental at a time that the economy as a whole is in serious difficulties, she says. “Apart from drastically increasing unemployment, the Operation will have a knock-on effect on the formal economy, including agriculture” she says.

“Operation Garikai is based on the scenario that Government will provide stands (plots of land) upon which those rendered homeless will build their new homes,” she says.

The plan assumes, however, that the local authorities will be able to provide the access roads, highway infrastructure and basic services to enable displaced people to build new homes in compliance with the law.

Ms. Tibaijuka points out that many African countries face similar problems and could well experience a similar eviction operation “sooner than later,” since Africa is the most rapidly urbanizing continent and its urbanization is unplanned and unsupervised.

She called for the implementation of her agency’s Habitat Agenda, which makes a clarion call to the international community to address the environmental sustainability of urban centres, including such needs as improving water and sanitation and upgrading slums.

Meanwhile, the Government of Zimbabwe must allow the international and humanitarian community unhindered access to assist those that have been affected, she says. Priority needs include shelter and non-food items, food and health support services.

She told a news conference at UN Headquarters that the presence of her entourage kindled hope in those who had been evicted and her visit could be counter-productive, therefore, if the homeless people looking to the UN were not aided.

She added that her mandate was not to apportion blame or calculate how much the aid would cost, but to recommend ways in which the international community could offer assistance to the Zimbabwean people.

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