Letter from Deputy Director of Trócaire to Charge d'Affaires of the Republic of Zimbabwe to the UK and Ireland

News and Press Release
Originally published
H.E. Mr Godfrey Magwenzi
Charge d'Affaires of the Republic of Zimbabwe to the UK and Ireland Zimbabwe
House 429 Strand
London WC2R 0QE UK
Fax: 0207 379 1167

Subject: Forced evictions and loss of homes in Zimbabwe

Your Excellency,

As Irish and British agencies involved in development and justice in southern Africa, including Zimbabwe, we write to express our concerns about the thousands of people who have lost their homes in recent weeks as a direct result of Operation Murambatsvina.

We have received eyewitness accounts to add to the media reports and the statement on 2nd June by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Zimbabwe. All of these record the impact of the government carrying out massive evictions in several towns and cities through the country. It is estimated that up to 300,000 people have been rendered homeless and that up to 30,000 street vendors and people working in the informal sector have been detained. Indeed the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing Mr Miloon Kothari estimates that up to three million people may be affected if the exercise continues unabated. Many of the people affected lived in makeshift shacks in and around the cities, while others were actually legal residents. The purpose of this operation is, according to government officials, to rid urban areas of illegal structures and businesses, and to clean up the environment.

Whilst we recognise as does the Zimbabwe Council of Churches that government have the right to pursue policies for environmental betterment, the policy has been carried out without initial contingency planning, without replacement housing being available and with no money budgeted for the vast sums needed for re-housing. This massive eviction operation is also an abrupt withdrawal of people's rights to adequate accommodation. People who, up until recently, enjoyed a home to live in (some of whom such as the inhabitants of Killarney in Bulawayo have lived in their houses for 20 years) have been forced to sleep in the open in the Zimbabwean winter. Many of the informal settlements had government approval to remain, had water and electricity provided by government, and in some cases government ministers or governors have opened these vending sites and settlements. The UN Special Rapporteur has stated that "the evictions have been carried out by police forces that, besides destroying the dwellers' property, have allegedly beaten residents who tried to defend their human right to adequate housing". The indiscriminate campaign has been carried out with indifference to the presence of - or concern for - children and the elderly, or to the levels of poverty in which people have been living. It also has major health implications, not least those people living with HIV/AIDS who are now unable to access those few drugs that are available.

The loss of accommodation, for many of the victims, will cause a loss of access to their places of employment, and therefore a loss of livelihood. This is particularly critical in a collapsing economy experiencing crisis unemployment levels. People are expected to return to their rural places of origin while much of the country is facing severe food shortages, with an estimated 4.5 million people out of 11 million facing the need for outside food support. Many do not have rural homes to return to. In effect, the operation is creating an internally displaced population who have no means of sustaining themselves and who have not received compensation for their loss and are at severe risk of starvation.

These mass evictions have grossly violated the rights of 300,000 people to adequate housing, and have also had an impact on the dwellers' associated rights linked to adequate housing such as the rights to food, water, health, education and the right to earn a livelihood. In violating the right to adequate housing, the Zimbabwean authorities have denied the right of legal security of tenure and freedom from dispossession, and the rights to information, participation, self-expression and resettlement. All of these rights are recognised in international law, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Zimbabwe ratified in 1991 and the Covenant's General Comments numbers 4 and 7 which state inter alia that 'forced evictions are prima facie incompatible with the provisions of the Covenant and can only be carried out under specific circumstances in which State parties to the Covenant must inform affected people, agree on a plan with them and provide adequate compensation. The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights states that authorities are required to explore alternatives with the affected community prior to eviction, to provide replacement accommodation, as well as an opportunity to appeal against an eviction order.

Through your office, Trocaire and CIIR urge the Zimbabwean government to:

- Immediately cease the mass evictions taking place;

- Take timely and decisive measures to ensure that adequate alternative housing is immediately provided for the already displaced population;

- Facilitate immediate access for the victims to humanitarian relief;

- Investigate and prosecute the use of excessive force by the police during the eviction drive;

- Comply with obligations under international law and respect all its citizens' rights to adequate housing.

The eviction operation is an affront to the human dignity of people, many of who have lived in conditions of poverty and insecurity for many years.

Yours truly,

Eamonn Meehan
Deputy Director, Trócaire

Christine ALLEN
Executive Director, CIIR

A copy of this letter has been sent to:

- The Coordination Office of the Housing and Land Rights Network of Habitat International Coalition (HIC-HLRN)
- Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
- The UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing
- African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights