Zimbabwe is in the midst of a profound political and economic crisis. Parliamentary elections held in 2000 and presidential elections in 2002 were marred by political disturbances and violence between the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).3 The government has routinely used repressive legislation and other violent means to suppress criticism of its political and economic policies by civil society activists and the opposition.
The most recent parliamentary elections were held on March 31, 2005. Human Rights Watch reported on the conditions leading up to the elections and 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.4
ZANU-PF won the elections by a majority but the MDC declared that the elections were not free and fair.5 The elections were widely criticized by local civil society organizations, international organizations and the international community including the European Union (EU), and the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States.6 The elections, however, were endorsed by the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and South African observer teams.7
The Zimbabwe economy is in a state of prolonged crisis provoked by massive mismanagement and corruption as well as the devastating impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic: 25 percent of adults aged 15-49 are HIV positive.8
The countrys main macroeconomic problems include an annual inflation rate of 258.4 percent,9 declining GDP, high domestic debt, an unemployment rate of 80 percent, an overvalued exchange rate, persistent foreign currency shortages and weak investor confidence.10 The economic crisis has led to increasing poverty and food insecurity.11
In 2000, the government of Zimbabwe embarked on a controversial land reform program which led to the forced displacement of thousands of farm owners and farm workers, and according to economic analysts, worsened the economy and helped create acute food shortages.12
In the months after the March 2005 elections, there were a number of peaceful protests by men and women in some urban and rural areas around the country against economic conditions and food shortages. In the process, police arrested scores of people and charged them with violating the Public Order and Security Act.13
The failure of the government to introduce effective policies that would benefit the poor has led to disillusionment in both the rural and urban areas.14 Harsh economic policies in recent years have led to an increase in informal urban settlements as people have been unable to access much needed but expensive housing in the formal sector.15 Increasing unemployment in the rural and urban areas in the past five yearsas the economy has declinedhas also led to an increase in the number of people operating in the informal business sector.16
The increased movement of people into the urban areas began in the late 1980s and continued into the 1990s.17 Those in the rural areas originally moved to urban areas to improve their livelihoods. The land reform program in 2000 and 2001 also accelerated the influx into the urban areas due to an increase in rural unemployment, uncertainty over tenure for a large number of people, and lack of access to productive land leading to an increasingly desperate food security situation not only for former farm workers but for most of those living in the rural areas.18 Thousands of ex-farm workers moved to the urban areas. Political violence during elections in 2000 and 2002 in the rural areas also increased the influx of people to the urban areas.19
Over the past ten years, the huge demand for housing in cities such as Harare, and expensive city council rental rates, has led to the spread of unplanned (and thus illegal under national law) cottages behind legal dwellings, including small cottages and cabins in the poor high density urban areas of Zimbabwe.20 Instead of waiting years for the local city council to allocate accommodation to them, many of the urban poor built their own unplanned cabins and cottages behind legally recognized and approved dwellings. Many of those affected by the recent evictions were lodgers renting these small cabins behind main houses. In many cases, divorced and widowed women built and rented out cottages and cabins in the backyards of their houses to earn a living.
Many residents of all these areas worked in the informal economic sector.21 They owned market stalls and sold fruits, vegetables and other wares. Others owned small businesses such as salons and carpentry shops. Other informal settlements were also formed when in 1993, the government of Zimbabwe forcibly removed up to 20,000 people from a farm called Churu on the outskirts of Harare and resettled them on Porta Farm and in the high density urban neighborhood of Hatcliffe. These people were all affected by Operation Murambatsvina.22
In the late 1990s, the central government also encouraged the formation of housing cooperatives in the urban areas in an attempt to reduce the housing deficit. Some housing cooperatives on the outskirts of Harare were formed on farm land appropriated by the government during the land reform program in 2000.23 Womenwho were identified as being most in need of housingwere encouraged to join housing cooperatives in an effort to ensure they had affordable housing. Local city council authorities allocated housing stands (plots)24 after interested buyers paid a deposit for their development. The authorities provided such buyers with forms to sign, and plans and documents proving their ownership and then allocated the stands. Those with sufficient funds were then given permission by local authorities to build houses on the stands. People who built houses on the stands either moved in or rented them out to others. Many of the cooperatives had electricity and water supplies provided by the council and the owners paid monthly water and electricity rates.25
In 1995, in an initial state report to the Committee on Economic and Social Rights on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the government of Zimbabwe acknowledged that it had a housing crisis manifested by: the mushrooming of illegal backyard extensions in most high density areas resulting in overcrowding; the continued existence of substandard houses which require upgrading; and overcrowded households.26
In its state report, the government accepted that no legislation existed in Zimbabwe to regularize the situation of those living in the illegal sector or that prohibited forced evictions.27 But it stated that in the circumstance of illegal settlements, it had the option to either upgrade any illegal settlements or resettle the people on other planned residential sites in line with international law. However, in carrying out Operation Murambatsvina, the government did not pursue either option.
In response to Zimbabwes report, the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) noted, the situation to the right to housing remains clearly inadequate. The committee is particularly concerned about the precarious situation of persons living in illegal structures or unauthorized housing. Persons should not be subjected to forced eviction unless this is done under conditions compatible with the covenant.28
The Committee enquired about the measures that the government had taken to resettle the inhabitants of the illegal sector on other planned residential sites or to upgrade the illegal settlements.29 The Committee recommended to the Zimbabwean government that it take appropriate measures to effectively guarantee the right to adequate housing and in particular, to ensure that no forced evictions would be carried out without offers of alternative housing in accordance with the Committees General Comment No. 4 that calls on state parties to confer legal security of tenure to all persons lacking suchprotection thus protecting them from forced eviction and harassment.30
However, Human Right Watch received information that in the early to late 1990s, when the extent of the numbers of unplanned backyard extensions became known to the local city council, concerns were raised and were repeatedly ignored by central government authorities in the Ministry of Local Government.31 As one Harare City Council official told Human Rights Watch, the city council was aware about the unplanned settlements and extensions but could not do anything about it. When we wanted to do something, we were politically stopped but now we are being politically encouraged to evict the people. At the time, it did not seem politically expedient for the government to evict people or solve the situation.32 The governments reluctance to address the housing crisis resulted in the continued growth of informal urban settlements. By 2005, the national waiting list for accommodation was reportedly up to 2 million persons.33
Over the past five years, Human Rights Watch has been monitoring, investigating and reporting on its concerns about serious human rights violations in Zimbabwe. The government has increasingly turned to repressive and at times violent means to suppress criticism from the opposition and civil society. Some of the violations Human Rights Watch has documented include the excessive use of force by members of the army and police, reports of ill-treatment and torture by the police and other state-sponsored agents, disregard for the rule of law, restrictions on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, and discrimination in access to food aid. Human rights abuses continue to take place with impunity with few perpetrators being brought to justice.34
Police and other state-sponsored agents routinely attack and harass government critics including members of civil society organizations, human rights lawyers, journalists and trade unionists. At the same time, the police have used repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act to silence critical or dissenting voices within civil society.35
The government of Zimbabwe has a long history of circumventing and at times blatantly disregarding the rule of law, with state officials on occasion ignoring high court orders. The judiciary has been severely weakened and compromised, and in several instances, judges have reportedly been threatened, harassed or attacked by police and ruling party supporters.36 As a result, internationally agreed fair trial standards are not always guaranteed.
 Human Rights Watch report, Under a Shadow: Civil and Political Rights in Zimbabwe, June 2003; Amnesty International report, Rights Under Siege, May 2003.
 Human Rights Watch report, Not a level playing field: Zimbabwes parliamentary elections in 2005, March 2005.
 MDC preliminary report on 2005 elections, March 31, 2005.
 BBC Online, Straw condemns elections, April 5, 2005.
 News 24.com, SADC endorses elections, April 3, 2005; see also News 24.com, SA accepts Zim election result, April 2, 2005.
 UNAIDS datasheet, http://www.unaids.org/en/geographical+area/by+country/zimbabwe.asp accessed August 31, 2005.
 The Herald Online, Record inflation rise, August 18, 2005.
 IMF Country Report No: 04/297, September 2004.
 World Development Indicators database, April 2005.
 Human Rights Watch report, Fast track land reform in Zimbabwe, March 2002; United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, An overview of vulnerability within the newly resettled commercial farming areas, November 2003.
 The Daily Mirror, Food protests at Chiefs homestead, May 23, 2005; Human Rights telephone interview with Police Officer, Insiza, May 22, 2005; The Daily Mirror, Residents demonstrate over water shortages, May 13, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Thomas Deve, economic analyst, Harare June 25, 2005. See also Dashwood, H.S. Zimbabwe: The Political Economy of Transformation, 2000.
 op cit.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with members of housing associations and local city council housing officials, Harare, June and July 2005.
 Human Rights Watch report, Fast track land reform in Zimbabwe, March 2002; S.Moyo and P.Yeros, Land Reform in Zimbabwe: Towards the National Democratic Revolution, February 2004; United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, An Overview of vulnerability within the newly resettled former commercial farming areas, November 2003.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with local city council housing officials, Harare, June 25, 2005
 Zimbabwe State Party Report on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, September 25, 1995
 IMF Country Report No: 04/297, September 2004.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with residents of Porta Farm, MDC MP for Harare North Constituency, Trudy Stevenson, and Mike Davies, Committee of Harare Residents Association, June and July 2005; See also reports by Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and UN Envoys Report.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with members of cooperatives, June and July 2005.
 Demarcated pieces of land for building a house or property.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with members of cooperatives, June and July 2005.
 Zimbabwe State Party Report. op cit.
 Concluding observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in response to Zimbabwes state party report, May 20, 1997.
 See paragraphs 43 and 47 of the summary record of the 10th meeting by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on Zimbabwes state party report, June 6, 1997.
 Paragraph 21 of the concluding observations of the Committee on Economic and Social and Cultural Rights on Zimbabwes state party report.
 Human Rights Watch interview with city council housing officer, Harare, June 25, 2005.
 op cit.
 See Human Rights Watch reports, Under a Shadow: Civil and Political Rights in Zimbabwe, June 2003; The Politicization of Food in Zimbabwe, October 2003; Not a Level Playing Field: Zimbabwes Parliamentary Elections in 2005, March 2005.
 Human Rights Watch report, Under a shadow: Civil and political rights in Zimbabwe, June 2003; Amnesty International report, Rights under siege, May 2003.
 Human Rights Watch reports, Under a Shadow: Civil and Political Rights in Zimbabwe, June 2003; The Politicization of Food in Zimbabwe, October 2003; Not a Level Playing Field: Zimbabwes Parliamentary Elections in 2005, March 2005.