Following a crackdown on 3 500 illegal settlers by Zimbabwe Republic Police recently, The Harare Metropolitan Residents Forum (HAMREF) issued a press statement Thursday condemning the evictions

HAMREF, a platform for ten (10) Residents Associations in Harare Metropolitan Province condemns the forced evictions in rural and urban areas as they fall far short of adherence to human rights principles provided in domestic and international legal frameworks.

While we are in tandem with the government in the fight against land grabs and illegal land sales both in communal and urban areas, we disagree with the manner which the government is implementing to resolve the issue, they said. 

They affirmed that any decision to initiate an eviction, the government must have demonstrated that these evictions are unavoidable and consistent with international human rights commitments.

The fundamental obligation of Government is to protect and improve houses and neighbourhoods, rather than damage or destroy them.

In terms of international human rights law, there must be procedural safeguards before and after an eviction in order to ensure that other human rights are not violated, and simply issuing statements, intimidating and incarcerating the victims is not sufficient to safeguard the human rights of these victims but further violate other human rights provided in our Constitution. 

Conducting evictions or demolitions in haste without considering procedural safeguards has a potential to create a serious humanitarian catastrophe just like the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina which left 700 000 people homeless.

Furthermore, all those evicted, irrespective of whether they hold title to their property, should be entitled to compensation for the loss, salvage and transport of their properties affected, including the original dwelling and land lost or damaged in the process.

HAMREF are deeply concerned that these forced evictions are mainly targeting beneficiaries of the land while exonerating the powerful politically connected land barons and corrupt officials who “illegally” sold or parceled out land to these victims.

Allowing people to settle “illegally” for more than 20 years is a big sign of failure by both local authorities and central government to administer both rural and urban land.

These failures cannot be corrected in haste as we are currently witnessing.

This then brew perceptions that these forced evictions are a political issue rather than an administrative issue.

We are of the view that the government is conflicted in dealing with this matter, and call upon the Office of the ombudsman to conduct public hearings and arbitrate on this matter.

In terms of Section 243 (1)(d) and(e) the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission has a function of the ombudsman to receive complaints from the public, protect the public against abuse of power and the maladministration by the State and public institutions, and by officers of those institutions.

The kangaroo courts currently being hurriedly conducted will not address the underlying issues of the emergency of the so called “illegal settlements.” 

HAMREF are also aware that some of these settlements were birthed through political mobilisation by political parties during the run- up to the elections, and we call upon political parties to desist from using land or informality for political mobilization.

The situation was further compounded by maladministration, abuse of power and corruption by public officials who work in cahoots with the politically connected land barons who are known, or in some cases public officials acting on their own.

They recommended that government shelves the forced evictions, arrest the land barons first and corrupt public officials who are and were involved in the illegal land sales. 

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission should conduct broader public hearings or consultations on this matter, and then come up with a report that will inform the next steps on the illegal settlements and illegal land sales.

This should be easy because there is an outstanding report of the Justice Tendai Uchena Commission of Inquiry into sales of land in peri urban settlements which has not been published. 

The President of the Republic should use the same powers he has over communal and urban land to improve access to housing and promote the right to shelter, and put local government on the legislative agenda for the next session of Parliament.

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