International Rights group says Murambatsvina is crime against humanity
By Violet Gonda
23 May 2007
An international human rights group the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) announced on Wednesday that Operation Murambatsvina was a crime against humanity and the Zimbabwe government should be taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by the United Nations Security Council.
Between May and July 2005 more than 700 000 people were left homeless after the authorities embarked on a “slum clearance” exercise that was described by the UN as a "disastrous venture." More than 2,4 million people were also indirectly affected. Those most affected were the elderly, women, school children, HIV and AIDS patients and the poor.
After seeking independent legal opinion, the Geneva-based rights group issued a joint statement with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) saying the evictions were a widespread and systematic attack against civilians as part of a state policy, and were not justified on grounds permitted under international law.
Jean du Plessis, Executive Director of COHRE, said the group used independent researchers to look at Operation Murambatsvina in detail and the conclusion confirmed the group’s earlier suspicions that the exercise was a crime against humanity. He said: "The magnitude of the crimes committed during Operation Murambatsvina demand an international response. We call for this case to be dealt with as a matter of urgent priority by the Security Council, in order to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to book and to prevent any recurrence."
The government said it would build 90 000 houses but Amnesty International reported last year that just over 3 000 houses had been built. Amnesty said most of the new houses had no doors, floors, windows and roofs.
Arnold Tsunga, Executive Director of ZLHR, said in the statement: "The use of organized violence and torture by the State against its own people with impunity has gone on for far too long in Zimbabwe. There is no justification for the world to powerlessly watch while ordinary men, women and children are tormented by their own government. It is time to refer this case to the ICC."
Some critics are wary that some countries like South Africa and China may block this motion, as they have done before in the UN Security Council. But Jean du Plessis said COHRE hoped that the new information in the report provides sufficient evidence that should compel governments in the 15 member Council to realize the gravity of the situation and act.
At the launch of the report Zimbabwe Watch, a Dutch-based organisation, will release a separate legal opinion indicating that the Zimbabwe evictions could also be prosecuted in various national jurisdictions, the most notable being South Africa, The Netherlands, Germany and Spain. Pascal Richard of Zimbabwe Watch says: "Prosecutors and advocates in jurisdictions outside Zimbabwe should study the possibility, in close collaboration with the International Criminal Court, of launching prosecutions as soon as possible."