The organisation has been monitoring events over the last week as the police and bulldozers have moved in to clear so-called “illegal settlements” in the towns of Epworth and Chitungwiza near the country’s capital, Harare.
“These evictions will leave thousands of people in an extremely dire situation, particularly with the rainy season approaching fast,” said Simeon Mawanza, Southern Africa regional specialist at Amnesty International.
“Instead of forcing people out of their houses and condemning them to homelessness, authorities must respect the law and people’s rights by finding alternative solutions. Everybody has the right to adequate housing and to be protected against forced eviction regardless of where they live.”
On Friday 26 September residents of Epworth were woken up by the sound of bulldozers and were given little time to save their belongings. They had not received adequate notice, been consulted at all and no attempt was made by the authorities to ensure that people were not rendered homeless by their actions: all of which is required under international human rights law.
The Epworth Local Board authorities aided by the Zimbabwe Republic Police demolished some houses deemed to be illegal. In the process, around 10 people were arrested and detained at Domboramwari Police Station. They were released into the custody of their lawyers on Sunday.
One woman, Tarisai Marikopo, was allegedly assaulted by police and suffered a serious injury to her right eye whilst attempting to complain about the assault and arrest of her 17 year old son. She only received treatment on Saturday following an intervention by lawyers from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
On the night of 29 September, police again raided Epworth, fired teargas and arrested 23 residents from their homes. All were released on Monday without charge. At least 12 people were treated for injuries resulting from police beatings with baton sticks. International law requires that any use of force by authorities during evictions must be reasonable and proportionate and must not violate people’s right to personal security.
Evictions were also carried out in Chitungwiza where the local authority demolished dozens of homes without a court order. They claimed that the structures were constructed illegally. However, even if this is the case these actions still amounted to a breach of both Zimbabwe’s Constitution and its international human rights commitments. The evictions in Chitungwiza were carried out in violation of a court order issued by the Chitungwiza Magistrate Court in April barring the authorities from evicting the affected people.
Authorities in Harare also demolished informal business structures in the city last month, while the Marondera Town Council has threatened to carry out similar demolitions.
In 2005 the government of Zimbabwe forcibly evicted some 700,000 people in what became known as “Operation Murambatsvina”.
“The recent evictions are a terrible reminder of the horrors of Operation Murambatsvina. The government has failed to learn the lesson that forced evictions drive the victims deeper into poverty. There needs to be an immediate halt to any further evictions and proper redress made to the victims. At the same time there needs to be a thorough investigation into the actions of the police and those found responsible for abuses held to account” said Simeon Mawanza.
Section 74 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states that: “No person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished without an order of court made considering all the relevant circumstances.”
Forced evictions are prohibited under the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to which Zimbabwe is a party. Forced evictions have also been condemned by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, a mechanism created by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which has been ratified by Zimbabwe.
The Harare City Council is also threatening to carry out evictions in the suburb of Glen Norah. On Thursday 25 September, the council served 324 “illegal settlers” with 48 hour eviction notices: a completely inadequate timeframe. The council claimed that the land was reserved as public open space and recreation whilst the other land is described as a wetland.