May 10, 2002

Mugabe to visit the US, Land Bill passed

A leading Zimababwean human rights organisation on Friday, March 10, slammed the US government's decision to allow President Robert Mugabe to attend the UN Special Session on Children in New York. ZimRights programme manager, David Jamali, told IRIN: "Mugabe's visit to the US makes a complete mockery of the travel ban they placed on him. What America has shown by this kind of leniency, is that they really aren't serious about the deteriorating situation in the country." According to news reports, while Mugabe was allowed into the US he would be restricted to the UN headquarters.

Bruce Wharton, the US embassy spokesman in Harare told IRIN: "President Mugabe is a guest of the UN and not the American government. While he has been allowed to travel to the States, our policy toward the president has not changed. The travel ban was put in place as a direct result of the breakdown of the rule of law and the fundamentally flawed elections." But Mugabe's presence in New York has shocked and angered opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who in a statement said: "We are left wondering what message Mugabe can possibly have for the children worldwide when his illegitimate government in Zimbabwe is a living example of how not to treat children. The party he leads has set up militia bases countrywide where people with a different opinion to ZANU-PF are abducted and tortured. Most of the people in these camps are youngsters below the age of 20 who are being trained to brutalise their fellow Zimbabweans."

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's parliament has passed a controversial law aimed at speeding up redistribution of land, as a local human rights group warned that illegal farm invasions had increased. With the Land Acquisition and Amendment Bill being passed on Wednesday, May 8, a constitutional lawyer, Greg Linnington of the University of Zimbabwe, said the ramifications for farmers were "pretty grim". The passing of the Bill made permanent temporary amendments to the land law by Mugabe. "Various restrictions that were once temporary will now be made permanent. Restrictions that were imposed on farmers included regulating how they could utilise their land and providing for the seizure by the state of farm equipment and the like. "It's designed to accelerate land acquisition by the state. The whole thing is generally bad news for the agricultural community," said Linnington.

He explained that Zimbabwe's constitution was amended before the last parliamentary election in 2000. A new section was added "that explicitly states that in the absence of the British government providing funding for land reform, the government no longer had a duty to pay compensation for land acquired" in the land reform programme. He said it was unlikely any legal challenge to the law would be upheld in court. "There are certainly some good arguments that can be raised but the way the Supreme Court is now [with many independent judges having resigned], one can only feel pessimistic. There may also be various international pressures that could be brought to bear. The food situation is drastic, any sane government would not do what this government is doing. [Government's] policies are taking a bad situation and making it worse," he said.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's Human Rights NGO Forum (Human Rights Forum) warned that: "The attacks on commercial farmers and their workers have intensified with incidents of violence and evictions on the increase countrywide. These evictions are illegal and are not being carried out by any government officials, which would perhaps lend the processes some level of legitimacy, but are instead being enforced by [ruling party] ZANU-PF militia and war veterans."

Having been evicted from farms, workers faced a desperate situation. "Most have worked at their respective farms all their lives and have no alternative rural homes to go to. They are essentially internal refugees with no access to any essential resources, that is, food, water and shelter," the organisation said. The controversial ad hoc land redistribution programme has plunged Zimbabwe into a political and economic crisis. President Mugabe has declared a state of disaster due to critical food shortages brought about by exceptionally low agricultural production due to drought and other factors.

Many claim the food crisis was exacerbated by the disruption of commercial farming by land invasions and illegal evictions. Agence France Presse reported on Tuesday, May 7, that Finance Minister Simba Makoni told parliament that the economy had shrunk by 7.3 percent last year. He also reportedly urged the government to "enable all farmers to farm without disruption". The European Commission announced on Wednesday, May 8, that it had approved food aid worth (Euro) ¬6.5 million (about US $5.8 million) for Zimbabwe. The European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) said: "This decision is designed to ensure that some of those in need have access to minimum food supplies in the coming months. This assistance will fund the purchase of 8,070 mt of maize, 1,500 mt of pulses (beans) if possible at the regional level and 600 mt of vegetable oil." The food aid would be distributed among the poorest families in 19 districts of the country severely affected by food shortages "due to climatic problems faced in 2001 as well as the worst economic crisis Zimbabwe has ever faced".

Said ECHO: "This initiative constitutes the contribution of the EC to the emergency programme launched by the World Food Programme (WFP) in late 2001, as a consequence of the deterioration of the food security situation in the country. "With an estimated initial target population of 558,000 people for the overall programme, this contribution will provide relief to those households that have become even more exposed to the risk of food insecurity." The food is scheduled to reach the struggling Zimbabwean population within the next few weeks. (IRIN)

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