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Saturday, July 23, 2005

U.N. Condemns Zimbabwe for Bulldozing Urban Slums - New York Times

U.N. Condemns Zimbabwe for Bulldozing Urban Slums - New York TimesJuly 23, 2005
U.N. Condemns Zimbabwe for Bulldozing Urban Slums

UNITED NATIONS, July 22 - The United Nations on Friday condemned the mass destruction of urban slums and shantytowns in Zimbabwe by the government of President Robert G. Mugabe as a "disastrous venture," saying the policy had left 700,000 people homeless and created a "humanitarian crisis of immense proportions."

In a toughly worded report, the United Nations demanded that the activity be stopped immediately, that compensation and assistance be arranged for victims and that the leaders of the campaign be prosecuted.

In an accompanying statement that called the report "profoundly distressing," Secretary General Kofi Annan said, "I call on the government to stop these forced evictions and demolitions immediately, and to ensure that those who orchestrated this ill-advised policy are held fully accountable for their actions."

Mr. Annan said the United Nations would "urgently" seek agreement with Mr. Mugabe's government in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, to mobilize assistance "on the scale that is required to avert further suffering." He urged the government to recognize the state of emergency and give free access to international aid workers.

Zimbabwe's foreign minister, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, told a news conference in Harare that the report, which was made available to the government on Wednesday, was hostile, biased and wrong. "The report described the operation in vastly judgmental language which clearly demonstrates its inbuilt bias against the operation," he said.

The government campaign, which began without warning on May 19, has resulted in the bulldozing of shacks, workshops and market stalls across Zimbabwe's urban centers, with the evicted people robbed of their livelihoods and forced to withstand winter weather in tents, makeshift shelters and transit camps.

Mr. Mugabe has defended the undertaking, called Operation Restore Order, as an urban renewal plan devised to bring stability to Zimbabwe by cracking down on illicit activities and illegal structures.

The report said the program was referred to derisively by locals as Operation Tsunami. Opposition politicians say the evictions are aimed at dispersing their supporters from the cities to rural areas.

The 100-page report, compiled after a two-week fact-finding trip by Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, a Tanzanian specialist in rural economics sent as a United Nations special envoy, said removals had been "carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering," leaving Zimbabwe in "a virtual state of emergency" from which it would take years to emerge.

While the report said that the government was "collectively responsible" for what had occurred, it principally blamed an unnamed "few architects" of the policy and said the people of Zimbabwe should hold them accountable.

At a United Nations news conference, Mrs. Tibaijuka turned aside repeated questions about whether Mr. Mugabe himself was one of the plan's architects.

"I was not sent on an exercise to apportion blame," said Mrs. Tibaijuka, who leads the Nairobi-based United Nations human settlements program, known as Habitat. She also declined to say whether Mr. Mugabe had expressed remorse in either of their two meetings.

Speaking less diplomatically in her report, she said, "It remains the strong recommendation of the envoy that the culprits who have caused this man-made disaster be brought to book."

Mr. Mugabe, 81, who has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980, says Zimbabwe is being unfairly criticized by opponents of his land program, in which the government gave white-owned land to blacks.

In an apparent rebuke to Mr. Mugabe's claim to be acting to rid Zimbabwe of the vestiges of colonialism, Mrs. Tibaijuka said the government had itself pursued "a disastrous venture based on a set of colonial-era laws and policies that were used as a tool of segregation and social exclusion."

The blunt report comes as African leaders have resisted criticizing Mr. Mugabe despite evidence of the widespread devastation his policies have provoked.

Tanzania, Namibia and Zambia are among those that have praised some of Mr. Mugabe's economic policies in recent months or stopped protesters from faulting them. The African Union, the organization created five years ago to promote continentwide economic, political and human rights standards, responded to a recent demand from the Group of 8 industrial nations by calling Zimbabwe's crisis an internal matter.

Thabo Mbeki, president of Zimbabwe's powerful neighbor, South Africa, has long argued that "quiet diplomacy" is needed to help Zimbabwe and has remained silent on the mass evictions, though some African religious and labor leaders have condemned the campaign and called for aid for the victims.

While Mrs. Tibaijuka said there might be grounds for an international case charging crimes against humanity, she said that the Zimbabwean government had an obligation to "prosecute all those who orchestrated this catastrophe."

The report said that "death allegations are coming from so many quarters that they warrant an independent inquest, since the police carried out the operation." It said the government had not issued a single "confirmation or negation" of death.

Mrs. Tibaijuka's mission in Zimbabwe was from June 25 to July 8, and she said she had been given such unimpeded access and freedom of movement that she had been allowed to witness two acts of destruction.

As for whether the authorities would be able to undertake the broad measures she was recommending, Mrs. Tibaijuka said, "Operation Restore Order provides clear indications that the government of Zimbabwe has the wherewithal to implement policies at a lightning speed when it has the political will."


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