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Zimbabwe: Thousands of forced evictions, arrests

News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International

AI Index: AFR 46/012/2005 1 June 2005

Zimbabwe: Thousands of forced evictions and arrests in violent crackdown


I arrived, I wept. They were all outside
of their broken houses...children screaming, sick people in agony.
- Eyewitness account of the scene following one mass eviction in Zimbabwe


As United Nations Special Envoy James Morris visits Zimbabwe to discuss the country's severe food shortages, Amnesty International called on the Government of Zimbabwe to immediately halt mass forced evictions that have left whole communities homeless and destroyed thousands of livelihoods.

Over the past two weeks the Government of Zimbabwe has orchestrated the forced eviction of thousands of informal traders and families living in informal settlements across the country as part of a crackdown called "Operation Murambatsvina" - widely translated as "drive out the rubbish" but being referred to by police as "operation restore order".

Evictions are being carried out without notice and without court orders in a flagrant disregard for due process and the rule of law. During the forced evictions police and other members of the security forces are using excessive force -- burning homes, destroying property and beating individuals.

On the night of Thursday 26 May, more than 10,000 people were forcibly driven from their homes in the informal settlement of Hatcliffe Extension in northern Harare. Police reportedly destroyed these homes, leaving the settlement's families destitute and sleeping in the open during Zimbabwe's winter. Many of those evicted were actually placed at Hatcliffe Extension by the government.

"We have had reports of heart-wrenching scenes of ordinary Zimbabweans who have had their homes and livelihoods completely destroyed crying on the street in utter disbelief," said Kolawole Olaniyan, Director of Amnesty International's Africa Programme. "We have even had reports of police forcing people to destroy their own homes."

"Amnesty International is appalled by this flagrant disregard for internationally recognized human rights. Forced evictions -- without due process, legal protection, redress and appropriate relocation measures, are completely contrary to international human rights law."

Thousands of people - mainly informal traders - have been arrested during the crackdown, on the grounds that their businesses are illegal. Their goods have been destroyed or confiscated - although many are reported to have been in possession of licences to operate. Human rights lawyers are now taking court action on behalf of the traders, most of whom were forced to pay fines to secure their release.

"The forced closure of informal businesses - the only livelihood option left for many in Zimbabwe's shattered economy - has pushed thousands into an increasingly vulnerable position -- a fact that is particularly disturbing in light of the high levels of poverty and food shortages already present in Zimbabwe."

"The Government of Zimbabwe is acting in blatant violation of civil, political, economic and social rights guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights - and many more people are in danger of injury and homelessness as the forced evictions continue," said Kolawole Olaniyan.

"We call on the government to immediately cease the forced evictions. Those who have been forcibly evicted and had property destroyed should be granted full legal protection and redress and should receive adequate compensation," said Kolawole Olaniyan. "As a matter of urgency the government must ensure that all those evicted have access to shelter, food and safe water."

Background

In September 2004 Amnesty International reported on the attempted forced eviction of thousands of people from Porta Farm, an informal settlement on the outskirts of Harare, during which police reportedly misused tear gas against residents. The police were acting in defiance of a court order prohibiting the eviction.

According to eye-witness testimonies the police fired tear gas directly into the homes of the Porta Farm residents. At least 11 people died in the following weeks. Amnesty International has repeatedly called for a full investigation into the events and subsequent deaths at Porta Farm, but no investigation is known to have been carried out.

Amnesty International is very concerned that Porta Farm may again be targeted in the current "clean-up" operation.

For further information, please see http://amnesty-news.c.topica.com/maadAgeabht1Mbb0hPub/

ENDS

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