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Rights Group: Zimbabwe Evictions Violate International Law

The human rights group, the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) says Zimbabwe's mass evictions campaign could amount to a crime against humanity.

The group adds that the pattern of violations in Zimbabwe's mass eviction campaign horrendous and undeniable. It says the government of Robert Mugabe is in flagrant breach of the right to housing enshrined in several international human rights conventions ratified by Zimbabwe.

COHRE's Deputy Director, Jean du Plessis, says the continued demolition of slum dwellings may constitute a crime against humanity. He notes the statute of the International Criminal Court clearly prohibits the deportation and forcible transfer of populations under certain conditions.

"Even if a case could have been made that these communities are living illegally and they should not be there and in terms of national law they need to be removed, the procedures followed at the most basic level are totally incorrect and unjust," he said. "In terms of no advance notice given, no alternatives being considered for where people are going to stay and simply breaking down peoples' houses. And, this is internationally recognized as the way not to do it."

Since the campaign started three weeks ago, COHRE estimates more than 200,000 people have been forcibly and brutally evicted from their homes. More than 22,000 people have been arrested for so-called illegal trading.

It says thousands of homeless people, many of them children, are forced to sleep on the streets in bitterly cold weather. It notes winter temperatures have dropped to below five degrees celsius at night.

The government of Zimbabwe says Operation Restore Order, as it is called, is necessary to prevent illegal trading in commodities and foreign currency.

Mr. du Plessis notes Zimbabwe's economy is in crisis, with 70 percent of the population out of work. He says the informal economy is the only way poor people can survive. He says President Mugabe's eviction campaign has deprived these people of their only remaining sources of income and shelter.

"If you then take a community that has organized itself to survive and you take away their housing and you destroy the place where they stay and where they are secure and their networks, you set them back by a very long period," he said. "They have to redo all of that again in order to survive. So, we have absolutely no doubt that people are going to die. Many people are going to die as a consequence of these particular evictions."

COHRE has sent an urgent letter to President Mugabe and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Among its requests, the organization calls on the government to stop the evictions, to provide emergency relief supplies to those displaced and to provide alternative and adequate accommodation to those who have been made homeless.