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Land reform goes on international trial next week

Augustine Mukaro

ZIMBABWE’S emotive land reform programme goes under international scrutiny next Friday when the hearing
Roman” size=1> of evicted Dutch farmers’ case against government opens before the International Court.

The International Centre for the Settlement of Disputes (ICSID), which is normally based in Washington, will sit in Paris on December 15.

The first hearing will be by a tribunal of three arbitrators, Judge Gilbert Guillaume of France, former Boston University School of Law dean Ronald Cass representing the farmers, and former Pakistani Justice minister Mohammad Wassi Zafar on behalf of the Zimbabwe government.

The hearing will set a timetable for when the full claim will be served by the farmers, the filing of the defence counter claim, the claimants’ reply and then Zimbabwe’s rejoinder, disclosure of documents and service of witness statements.

Judge Guillaume, a former president of the International Court of Justice and a designee of the government of France to the ICSID panel of arbitrators, will preside as the casting vote in the case.

Zimbabwe has been pushing for the hearing to be held in Harare arguing that it would be difficult to raise the foreign currency required to finance the process. The request was however thrown out on the basis that it would not be fair to the farmers.

The ICSID last month demanded an advance payment of US$150 000 from Zimbabwe to meet anticipated expenses to be incurred during the hearing.

“ICSID administrative and financial regulations provide for the periodic advance payments to be made to the centre by parties to the ICSID arbitration proceedings in order to enable the centre to meet the costs of such proceedings, including the fees and expenses of arbitrators,” an ICSID letter to the government said.

If Zimbabwe loses the case it will be expected to pay in excess of US$15 million as compensation for improvements, land (title deed value) and expropriated moveable assets. The claim is currently accruing interest backdated to the time land was expropriated.

The evicted Dutch nationals are demanding that Harare uphold the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement signed by the two governments and ratified by President Robert Mugabe in 1996, four years before the chaotic and often violent land take-overs in 2000.

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