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Group says UN agencies failed evicted Zimbabweans

A HUMAN rights group accused UN agencies yesterday of failing to stand up to President Robert Mugabe when his government bulldozed city slums, forcing hundreds of thousands of poor Zimbabweans from their homes.



ONT face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>Human Rights Watch (HRW) said instead of decisive action to help the displaced, UN agencies entered into negotiations with Harare based on what was acceptable to Mugabe’s government.


“The obligation to protect and assist the displaced lies first with the Zimbabwean government,” HRW said in its report.


“(But) UN agencies . . . have been reluctant to confront the government over its blatant disregard of the human rights of the displaced and to protest the continued obstruction of humanitarian assistance, claiming that quiet representation would be more effective for achieving its operations,” the New York-based group said in a report released in Johannesburg.


Mugabe’s government demolished city slums earlier this year, drawing sharp criticism from the United Nations, which said the crackdown destroyed the homes or jobs of 700 000 people and affected the lives of 2,4 million others.


The HRW said it found serious flaws within the UN-led humanitarian assistance programme in Zimbabwe. It notably cited failure to assess and monitor the situation of the displaced and devise a realistic response strategy.


It said the United Nations had not assumed the responsibility of being an advocate for assistance and protection of the displaced.


“For their part, donors started raising growing concerns regarding the UN’s ongoing negotiations with the government,” the HRW said.


These negotiations were “driven predominantly by what was deemed to be acceptable to the government,” HRW said, quoting a donor report.


The United Nations in Zimbabwe was not immediately available for comment.


But Mike Huggins, UN World Food Programme spokesman in Johannesburg, said the Zimbabwe government had been unwilling to recognise that there was an urgent need for food aid generated by the evictions. Nevertheless WFP has been able to distribute food to about 100 000 people, he said.


“Clearly though there needs to be an assessment conducted to look at the food needs of the urban populations that were affected by Operation Murambatsvina (the eviction campaign),” Huggins told Reuters.


There was no immediate reaction from the government, which has previously said the operation was meant to root out black market trade in foreign currency and scarce commodities that it said thrived in shantytowns.


It has pledged to provide new housing for the displaced, far superior to their demolished shacks. And after initially spurning external offers of help Harare now says it is willing to accept UN participation in building new homes.


“Thousands of displaced Zimbabweans are living outdoors in disused fields or in the bush, in rudimentary shelters made from the debris of destroyed houses, or are squeezed into tiny rooms with family members who have agreed to shelter them,” Tiseke Kasambala of Human Rights Watch told reporters in Johannesburg. – Reuter.

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