- In an operation non-paralleled in peace time, more than 300,000 person have by now been forcedly evicted from their homes by the government in Zimbabwe. Today, more than 200 international human rights and civic groups protested the Zimbabwean government's operation as a gross violation of the rights and dignity of its citizens.
The government of Zimbabwe one month ago mobilised its police force to execute "Operation Murambatsvina" - or "Operation Drive out Trash" - aiming at destroying the informal shantytowns of Harare and other cities. Police troops since that have set afire entire townships and traditional markets, producing more than 300,000 homeless and depriving thousands of traders of their livelihood.
According to a broad-based coalition of human rights and civic groups, President Robert Mugabe by this operation not only is creating an enormous social problem in Zimbabwe, he is also "violating international human rights law." The Zimbabwe government is obliged to follow up an eviction of informal settlers by an offer to resettle the evicted, according to resolutions signed by Harare authorities.
Today, an unprecedented world alliance of rights groups forcefully protested the operation against Zimbabwe's poorest urban dwellers. The alliance includes local activists such as Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and large organisations as Amnesty International. Holding news conferences at several places in Africa and at UN headquarters in New York, the groups showed a smuggled video of Zimbabwean poor masses sleeping in the open in the winter cold following their eviction.
The coalition of civil rights groups urged Nigerian President Obasanjo, as Chair of the African Union (AU), to put the crisis in Zimbabwe on the agenda of the upcoming AU Assembly, scheduled to take place in Libya on 4 July. They also called on the UN to publicly condemn "the ongoing mass violations and take effective action to stop them."
- The AU and UN simply cannot ignore such an unprecedented, wide-ranging appeal on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe, particularly from African civil society, said a coalition representative in New York. "African solidarity should be with the people of Africa - not their repressive leaders," he added in his call for Africa-wide protests.
In Zimbabwe, the operation has caused considerable protest despite the tough measures adapted by President Mugabe's police forces. In particular in Bulawayo - Zimbabwe's second city and a stronghold of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) - shantytown residents managed to stop police destructions for several hours. Rights groups such as ZLHR and WOZA (Women of Zimbabwe Arise) have taken to the streets or challenged the government legally.
Also the MDC opposition is protesting what it calls the "operation arrest and destroy everything". According to the MDC, there is a political aspect to President Mugabe's "urban clean up". The MDC has particular support among the urban poor, which are now chased out of their homes. In addition to punishing these MDC voters, the ruling party may exclude them from the electoral roll for being homeless.
The protests by the human rights alliance today got its first support as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged African leaders to join the protests and speak out over the "tragic" events. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the G8 Ministers meeting in London today made similar appeals to African state leaders. No African government so far however has condemned the operation.
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