"What has already happened cannot be undone," Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kälin, said in a statement, noting that the Government of Zimbabwe had fallen far short of its obligations on internal displacement.
"What is now critical is that swift action be taken to protect the rights of the displaced - they are entitled to proper shelter, food, water and health care, and equal access to education for their children. They also have the right under international law to compensation for the loss of lawful possessions, and to freely choose their future place of residence," he added.
A UN report issued last month noted that the evictions, which the Government said were intended to clear illegally built slums, had been carried out "with indifference to human suffering," and Mr. Annan stressed that the operation had done "catastrophic injustice" to up to 700,000 of the country's poorest citizens.
"Destruction of homes and forced movement of people on such a scale comes squarely within the definition of internal displacement, which covers people forced to leave their homes to avoid human rights violations and other disasters, whether human-made or natural," Mr. Kälin said. "What underscores the tragedy is that this crisis has been, from the start, entirely avoidable."
Calling the Government's action incompatible with international law in many respects, he noted that the UN's Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement protect against arbitrary displacement, require due process, adequate notice, appropriate relocation and minimization of adverse effects, as well as appropriate provision of the necessities of life to displaced persons, protection of their property and voluntary choices to displaced persons as to where they will return.
"On each and every [one] of these points, the Government of Zimbabwe has fallen far short of its obligations," he declared.
With rapid action on the part of the UN in conjunction with the Government, "ongoing violations of human rights on the massive scale we have witnessed can be quickly brought to an end, and the task of putting people's lives back together again can begin," Mr. Kälin said. "The half-million displaced deserve, and are under law entitled to, no less than that."