IN a development that could put Zimbabwe’s chaotic land reform on trial, Dutch nationals who lost farms under the program
me have filed a case against the government at an international tribunal, demanding that Harare should uphold Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (Bippas).
The Dutch Farmers Association, in conjunction with UK-based Agric-Africa, registered the case on behalf of the farmers at the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington. The centre was established in 1966 as an affiliate of the World Bank. It provides facilities for the arbitration of disputes between member countries and investors who qualify as nationals of other member countries.
The Zimbabwe case is number 74 out of the 104 cases that are before the tribunal.
A group of 11 dispossessed Dutch farmers took their case for compensation in respect of confiscated land to the tribunal, claiming more than US$15 million.
The case was filed by Bernardus Henricus Funnekotter and others, and then registered by the tribunal on April 15 under Case Number ARB/05/6. It is still to be allocated to arbitrators.
Arbitrators are expected to hear the case by the end of next month.
Three arbitrators will consider the matter. The Zimbabwean government is permitted to choose one arbitrator.
More than 60 Dutch farmers were forced off their properties despite the fact that they were protected under a Bippa, ratified by President Robert Mugabe in 1996.
There were about 1 000 Dutch nationals, 70 of them farmers, in Zimbabwe before 2000 who grew flowers on land that was protected by the Bippa.
Under the agreement, government had promised to pay full compensation to Dutch nationals in the event of a dispute arising out of an investment in Zimbabwe.
Should the ruling by the tribunal favour the applicants, it could set a precedent for similar claims against government in international courts. The centre’s rulings are enforceable in 140 states that have ratified
the organisation’s convention.
The Dutch claimants are being represented by Wiley Rein & Fielding in Washington, Bishop & Sewell in London, and by Coghlan Welsh & Guest in Harare. Agric-Africa chairman Bob Fernandes used to work as a property evaluator in Zimbabwe. Since the land invasions began in 2000, he has been involved in the valuation of more than 3 000 title deeds of Zimbabwean agricultural properties.
Officials at the Netherlands embassy in Harare said the farmers were demanding what Zimbabwe agreed to pay as compensation in the Bippa between this country and the Netherlands.
“The Dutch farmers want an independent audit firm to assess the value of the property the government has acquired,” the official said.
“Compensation should be in the currency the appellants decide upon and paid into accounts of their choice. Once compensated the ownership is transferred to the government.”