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Rights Groups Want Zimbabwe's Mass Eviction Campaign Treated as Crime Against Humanity

International human rights groups are calling on the U.N. Security Council to move so that Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe faces charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The groups say his government's 2005 eviction of hundreds of thousands of people from slums in Zimbabwe constitutes a crime against humanity. For VOA, Lauren Comiteau has more from Amsterdam.

It was called "Operation Murambatsvina." President Robert Mugabe's government described it as an urban clean-up designed to remove illegal houses and shacks and wipe out a thriving black market.

But the U.N. has called it a "disastrous" and "indiscriminate" venture that left more than 700,000 people without homes or livelihoods. It says another 2.4 million were adversely affected. Opposition groups say the evictions were aimed at their supporters, who have been voting against Mr. Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party for years.

Now, two human rights groups, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions, are calling it a crime against humanity that demands an international response. Zimbabwean human rights lawyer Alex Muchadehma said in the Hague on Wednesday that what happened in Zimbabwe compares in magnitude to the Asian tsunami.

The human rights groups sought independent opinions on the legality of mass evictions. They concluded that the evictions constitute a crime against humanity because people were forcibly displaced and inhumane acts were committed in a widespread and systematic attack.

The groups say the Security Council has the authority to refer the case to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The court cannot investigate the case itself because Zimbabwe is not a party to it. So the rights groups are calling on all 15 Security Council members to debate the issue.

Some legal experts say that is unlikely. Avril McDonald of the Asser Institute in The Hague says she does not believe the Security Council will get involved.

She says this is a peace time situation, and the Security Council has just referred Darfur to the court. She says Mr. Mugabe has been doing this for years.

Zimbabwe is on the verge of economic collapse, and many people who lost their homes in 2005 are still homeless.