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UN Criticizes Zimbabwe Over Forced Evictions

A special U.N. investigator on adequate housing has condemned reports of the forcible eviction of hundreds of thousands of people in Zimbabwe, calling it a gross violation of human rights. The investigator, Miloon Kothari, has sent an urgent appeal to Zimbabwe's foreign minister to immediately halt the evictions.

Special U.N. Investigator Miloon Kothari tells VOA he is alarmed at the developments in Zimbabwe. He says he has reports of hundreds of thousands of people living in and around the capital, Harare, being thrown out of their houses with no place to go.

"I think it is irresponsible for any government, anywhere in the world, and it is a violation of their human rights obligations to evict people from their homes, whether their homes are informal or formal, without any notice and with force," said Miloon Kothari. "As we have seen in this case in Harare, the police have used excessive force in carrying out the demolitions."

Police destroy a home on a farm in Harare
This campaign began about two weeks ago. The government of President Robert Mugabe says it is aimed at ridding Harare of illegal structures, of informal businesses and of criminals and drug traffickers.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association says some 200,000 people have been evicted from their homes. Other estimates are higher. About 30,000 people are believed to have been arrested.

Mr. Kothari says he does not know why the government is mounting this campaign. But, he says there are reports that most of the targets are people who voted for the opposition party in the last election.

He says it also is clear that many people in the government want to clean up the capital and get rid of the slums to attract business.

"What is most disturbing about what has been happening is that there is a creation of a new kind of segregation, apartheid, where the poor people are being evicted out of the cities into marginal areas, and the cities are being essentially left for the rich and the well off," he said. "And, this is again completely contrary to the human rights obligations of the state."

Because it is winter in Zimbabwe, Mr. Kothari says, tens of thousands of homeless people are forced to sleep out on the streets in bitterly cold weather. He says he received reports that two children died Thursday because of exposure to the cold.

He says the eviction drive is continuing. If it is not stopped, he warns, about one quarter of Zimbabwe's population of around 10 million could be affected.

The U.N. human rights expert says he is asking the government to halt the evictions, open a dialogue with the affected people, provide adequate housing to those made homeless and to investigate reports of force.