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Rights Bodies Condemn Demolitions in Zimbabwe

More than 200 human rights and civic groups are condemning the Zimbabwe government's campaign to demolish illegal houses and businesses. The organizations, including a Zimbabwean lawyers' group, Amnesty International and the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, are calling on on the African Union and the United Nations to act on what they warn is a human-rights crisis caused by the government's clean-up operation.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights launched the appeal at a news conference in Harare. A statement from the groups called for the African Union and the United Nations to condemn the mass forced evictions and destruction of livelihoods in Zimbabwe.

It also asked the two bodies to call on the government of Zimbabwe to ensure those made homeless by the evictions have immediate access to emergency relief and receive restitution. Mordecai Mahlangu of the lawyers' group read the joint statement.

"The African Union and the relevant bodies of the United Nations, including the high commissioner for human rights, the Security Council and the secretary-general, cannot fail to act in the face of such gross and widespread human-rights violations and appalling human misery," said Mordecai Mahlangu. "We urge the chair of the African Union and all member states to address the situation in Zimbabwe as an urgent matter at the forthcoming AU Assembly in Libya from 4 to 5 July."

The statement said the destruction of people's homes and property, arbitrary arrests, abductions, and beatings constitute a grave violation of international human-rights law.

The statement says at least 300,000 people have been affected by the crackdown the government says is necessary to end illegal activities such as the hoarding of basic commodities for sale on the black market and the trade in scarce foreign currency. Some of those affected are now sleeping in the open. The government says 120,000 people have been made homeless, during the 5-week campaign dubbed Operation Restore Order.

Seven city buildings were closed Wednesday and the people running a variety of informal businesses in them were evicted, their furniture and other equipment dumped onto the streets.

A report in the state-controlled daily newspaper The Herald says more that 200 students attending private colleges in some of the buildings were also affected. The paper says some of them were due to write their examinations this month.

The newspaper also says police urged caution during the demolition of illegal structures. The call follows the death of two children crushed to death by falling walls. One of the children was the child of a police officer.

In another development on Wednesday, Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa rebuked the police for announcing that urban agriculture had been banned. Speaking in parliament Mr. Chinamasa said that what would not be tolerated was agricultural activity that flouted the law or encouraged land degradation.