In its policy of forced evictions and mass displacement, the Zimbabwean government has violated the human rights of hundreds of thousands of its citizens, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
Over the past two weeks, the Zimbabwean authorities have compounded the suffering by refusing to fully cooperate with United Nations agencies and humanitarian groups working to assist the evicted population. On August 26, President Robert Mugabe’s government rejected the terms of a draft U.N. emergency appeal that would have helped hundreds of thousands of those hardest hit by the evictions.
The 40-page report, “Clear the Filth: Mass Evictions and Demolitions in Zimbabwe,” documents how the government has violated the human rights of its citizens by arbitrarily forcing them to destroy their property without due notice, process or compensation, and by displacing thousands into the rural areas where they lack basic services such as health care, education, clean water or means of economic support.
“The Zimbabwean government has caused untold suffering to poor and vulnerable people,” said Tiseke Kasambala, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “To make matters worse, Mugabe’s government is now delaying the provision of much-needed humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of people affected by the evictions.”
The humanitarian consequences of “Operation Murambatsvina” (“Operation Clear the Filth”) have been catastrophic. Thousands of men, women and children are now internally displaced and are living without access to humanitarian assistance, particularly in the rural areas where acute food shortages are looming and humanitarian agencies have had difficulties tracing those in need of assistance.
The United Nations estimates that as many as 700,000 people have been evicted and their houses and properties demolished since the government launched the operation on May 19.
Human Rights Watch said that women, children, persons living with HIV/AIDS and foreign-born residents were particularly hard hit by the evictions. Accounts of the victims share a common thread: all cite a similar process of forced, indiscriminate and often violent displacement at the hands of police coupled with consistent orders to move to rural areas.
“The police are showing no mercy. They were beating us with baton sticks and their boots if we didn't destroy our houses quickly enough,” a young woman in Harare told Human Rights Watch about the brutal methods that the police used to evict her from her home. “It doesn't matter, women, children, and elderly people. They were all beaten up. What we want to know is why is God doing this to us.”
The evictions have also led to the disruption of scores of HIV/AIDS home-based treatment and care programs around the country. The disruption of treatment programs is likely to lead to resistance to HIV/AIDS drugs and an increase in opportunistic infections. Many HIV/AIDS sufferers are sleeping out in the open or have sought refuge with relatives and charity organizations or moved out to the rural areas where there is little access to antiretroviral drugs.
A home-based care worker informed Human Rights Watch that five of his clients had died in the open in Mutare after being evicted from their homes, “Out of my 20 clients, five have already died while sleeping out in the open. We attended the funeral of one woman who died leaving behind a five-year-old child. They were sleeping in the open. These conditions are not good for already sick people.”
The Zimbabwean government claims that the operation was meant to restore order to the cities and dignity to the people. However, as the report documents, there is no rationale that can justify the blatant violation of human rights and the untold misery and chaos that the illegal evictions and demolitions have caused.
“Massive human rights violations have taken place as a result of the mass evictions and demolitions,” said Kasambala. “The individuals responsible for planning and executing Operation Murambatsvina must be immediately brought to justice.”
Human Rights Watch called on the Zimbabwean government to provide immediate assistance, including alternative accommodation, to all those that have been affected by the evictions. The government must investigate the use of excessive force by the police and other human rights abuses related to the evictions and bring the perpetrators to justice. Human Rights Watch also urged the Zimbabwean authorities to cooperate with local and international humanitarian agencies and accept the terms of the U.N. emergency appeal to ensure much needed assistance for thousands of men, women and children.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan should establish a Commission of Inquiry to identify those responsible for planning and carrying out Operation Murambatsvina that violated the human rights of hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, Human Rights Watch said.
The international community, especially regional bodies such as the African Union and neighboring countries in the Southern African Development Community should exert far more sustained political pressure on Harare to end these abuses and ensure accountability for those responsible for Operation Murambatsvina.