Zimbabwe: UN envoy confirms reports of deaths

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

JOHANNESBURG, 1 July (IRIN) - A spokesman for the special UN envoy evaluating the impact of the controversial demolition of informal settlements in Zimbabwe confirmed on Friday that they had received reports of "two or three" deaths in areas where evictions had been carried out.

"But we are yet to establish whether the deaths were circumstantial or as a direct result of the demolition", said Sharad Shankardass, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General's special envoy, Anna Tibaijuka.

The human rights NGO, Amnesty International, said on Thursday it had received information that at least three people, including a pregnant woman and a four-year-old child, had died during a mass eviction of at least 10,000 people from Porta Farm, an informal settlement on the outskirts of the capital, Harare, established by the government more than 10 years ago.

"Over the last 48 hours, Porta Farm - a settlement of at least 10,000 people - has been obliterated. People have watched their lives being completely destroyed, and many are now being forcibly removed in trucks by police. At the moment we are not sure where they are being taken," the Director of Amnesty International's Africa Programme, Kolawole Olaniyan, said in a statement on Thursday.

Speaking to IRIN from Zimbabwe, Shankardass said Tibaijuka had visited Porta Farm after the demolitions and met with the affected people to get their version of the events.

"She has also asked for a detailed report from the government and the MP responsible for the area," he added.

Shankardass pointed out that Tibaijuka was in Zimbabwe to conduct an "impartial evaluation - she is not here to endorse anybody's actions. At the end of her trip she will make her own assessment, which she will then present to the UN Secretary-General".

Tibaijuka arrived in Harare on Sunday and later in the week met with President Robert Mugabe, who allowed her to "go anywhere she wanted," he noted.

On Thursday the UN envoy met with local and international NGOs providing humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile Alpha Oumar Konare, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, has designated Bahame Tom Nyanduga, a member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, Special Rapporteur Responsible for Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, to carry out a fact-finding mission in Zimbabwe that began on 30 June and will conclude on 4 July.

Nyanduga is expected to meet with the Zimbabwean authorities and relevant human rights organisations and inspect areas where evictions and demolitions have taken place.

The government started its crackdown on informal settlements and traders over a month ago, arguing that the exercise was meant to rid urban centres of criminal activities.

Human rights groups and the international community have condemned the campaign, which has left over 320,000 people homeless.


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