Zimbabwe: Cease mass evictions and respect the right of security of tenure


We had been informed by Habitat International Coalition-Housing and Land Rights Network (HIC-HLRN) that the Government of Zimbabwe was carrying out massive evictions in throughout Zimbabwe that already had rendered 200,000 people homeless in two weeks. Some 30,000 street vendors and people working informally had been detained and if the eviction drive continues, 2 to 3 million people could be affected. Most victims were sleeping in the streets and without shelter in the countryside, when the country is in winter season. At least two children died as a result of the harsh conditions of homelessness.

The government's Operation Murambatsvina has happened without any notice, except apparently in Harare, where government-appointed Mayor Sekesai Makwavarara gave inhabitants notice of eviction in May, and told them that they had until July 2005 to vacate. However, evictions started in different places in the country as early as 17 May and, in the night of 26 May, authorities forcibly drove more than 10,000 people from their homes in the informal settlement of Hatcliffe Extension in northern Harare alone.

The overwhelming presence of police at the scene have engaged in excessive use of force added to the deprivation arising from these illegal evictions

Most victims are those who have been living in informal shacks in and around the cities, while others were legal residents, such as those in Hatcliffe Extension. The vast majority of evicted residents have not been offered any alternative place to settle, and the authorities have told them only to go back to the rural areas wherever they come from. If they do so, they will have no means of subsistence.

Today, many of the evictees are legal residents from previously government-supported cooperatives that were supposed to help poor Zimbabweans achieve better living conditions. Eviction has left them destitute and demoralized.

 Under most circumstances, forced evictions are prima facie in violation of international law. These mass evictions already have grossly violated 200,000 people's human right to adequate housing, but also have had an impact on the dwellers' congruent rights linked to adequate housing, such as the right to food, right to water, right to health, right to education and the right to earn a livelihood. In the right to adequate housing, the Zimbabwean authorities have denied in particular the following elements: legal security of tenure and freedom from dispossession; information; participation and self-_expression; and resettlement. All are recognized in international law, especially in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that Zimbabwe has ratified on 13 August 1991.

 These rights are also emphasized in General Comments no. 4 (1991) and no. 7 (1997) of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which state that "forced evictions are prima facie incompatible with the provisions of the Covenant and can only be carried out under specific circumstances", imposing certain requirements which State parties to the Covenant must respect, including the necessity to inform the affected people, agree on a plan with them, and provide adequate compensation.

 The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing recently stressed that "forced evictions carried out in the manner alleged would constitute a gross violation of human rights, in particular of the right to adequate housing, as has been stressed by a unanimously adopted resolution of the UN Commission on Human Rights" (see resolution E/CN.4/RES/1993/77). In general, women and children are always the most affected by forced evictions, especially when in already vulnerable conditions (widows, orphans), thus this type of mass action grossly violates their rights, as enshrined in international law as well.

Zimbabwe also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on 12 June 1991. CEDAW's Article 14.2(h) requires States to ensure adequate living conditions for women in rural areas. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Zimbabwe ratified on 11 October 1990, specifically requires that States protect children's right to adequate housing (Article 27.3). The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Zimbabwe on 13 August 1991, prohibits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and/or punishment (Articles 7) and the arbitrary use of force (Article 17). The evictions currently underway in Zimbabwe are in violation of all of these binding international norms.

If evictions take place at all, international law and expressed consensus establish that they can legally occur only in exceptional circumstances and in conformity with human rights criteria. These include requirements of consultation, due process, consent, ensuring alternative housing in advance, and fair compensation, as set forth by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in General Comment No. 7.

At the regional level, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights also established that authorities are required to explore alternatives and option with the affected community prior to eviction, to provide adequate notice and information, to assure the availability of replacement accommodation, as well as an opportunity to appeal an eviction order. As in CESCR's General Comment No. 7, the African jurisprudence affirms that no one may be made homeless as a result of an eviction. (See Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC) and The Centre for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) v. Nigeria, 2001.[2])

While the Zimbabwean authorities have claimed that these cruel evictions are based on the requirements of law enforcement, they also have contravened the minimum requirements of law-enforcement official by using force outside the principles of necessity and proportionality, as elaborated in the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (Article 3), which the General Assembly adopted in resolution 34/169, 17 December 1979. Moreover, the nature of the evictions also violates the General Provisions of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (1990). The African Charter on Human and People's Rights affirms these same principles, in particular under Article 6, which recognizes the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention.

These violations may also constitute crimes against humanity. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has codified the deliberately widespread or systematic transfer of a civilian population as a crime against humanity, under Article 7(1)(d) and Article 7(2)(d). The present forcible transfer of large parts of the Zimbabwean population to rural areas, relegates them to a state of dispossession, deepened impoverishment, and without a source of livelihood or means of sustenance. The grave conditions resulting from these evictions give argument to the suggestion that the Security Council direct the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and prosecute these serious crimes.

We urge the Zimbabwean government to do the utmost to reverse this tragic destruction of lives and property. An urgent and effective response is required also to reduce the already heavy toll that the current evictions have taken on the internal and external legitimacy of the Zimbabwean government. This can be achieved through the following actions:

  • immediately cease the mass evictions taking place around the country;
  • to ensure that adequate alternative housing is immediately provided for already displaced populations;
  • initiate dialogue with affected communities in accordance with human rights principles, especially CESCR General Comment no. 7;
  • investigate and prosecute the use of excessive force by the police during the current eviction drive;
  • comply with the State's obligations under international law to respect everyone's right to adequate housing, including legal security of tenure and freedom from dispossession; information; participation and self-_expression; and resettlement; as well as the rights to food, water, health, education and the right to earn a livelihood.

See the complete letter here.

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