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Rights groups petition Africa over Zimbabwe

By Stella Mapenzauswa and MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE – More than 150 international rights groups petitioned African governments and the continent’s main political union on Wednesday to act on what they called a humanitaria

n crisis in Zimbabwe.

President Robert Mugabe’s government drew global criticism over its demolition of urban slums earlier this year. The United Nations say it destroyed the homes or jobs of at least 700,000 people and affected the lives of 2.4 million others.

“Today’s mass letter-writing appeal highlights the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in the country and the failure of African states and the AU (African Union) to address the situation in any meaningful way,” a coalition led by Amnesty International and the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) said in a statement.

“The silence of African leaders on Zimbabwe represents a failure to honour their commitments to the human rights of ordinary Africans,” a spokesman for the groups said.

African governments have for the most part been silent on human rights issues in Zimbabwe — in sharp contrast to criticism from Western governments and African churches, trade unions and human rights organisations.

A U.N. official said on Wednesday the Harare government had finally accepted U.N. help to construct houses for thousands of victims of the “clean up” programme.

But the coalition said Harare had failed or was unwilling to ensure that those affected had access to minimum levels of food, water, shelter and medical care.

“Today, we call on African states, individually and in their capacity as members of the AU, to publicly express concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe,” it said.

The United Nations said it was poised to deliver a $30 million humanitarian relief programme to build houses after the Harare government agreed after months of talks.

The acting director for the U.N. Information Centre in Harare, Hiro Ueki, said the government had written to the U.N. late on Monday accepting the aid.

“In that letter the government said that they had approved the shelter programme that the U.N. Habitat had offered earlier,” Ueki told Reuters on Wednesday.

The U.N. would construct 2,500 housing units during the first phase of the programme and Ueki said 10 pilot houses would be built next week for government approval.

The Harare government has defended the crackdown, dubbed “Operation Restore Order”, saying it was meant to root out black market trade in foreign currency and other scarce commodities which it said had thrived in shantytowns.

*The United Nations meanwhile protested Zimbabwe’s eviction earlier this week of hundreds more people from a slum in the capital city of Harare that previously had been cleared of residents. Agostinho Zacarias, the top UN official in Zimbabwe, sent a protest note to the Foreign Ministry expressing his deep concern over the new evictions, which he said “make it hard for the provision of humanitarian assistance to the affected populations,” UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe told reporters at UN headquarters in New York. Zacarias at the same time welcomed word that Zimbabwe has agreed to accept UN assistance in constructing temporary shelter for those left homeless as a result of its campaign to bulldoze shantytowns launched this year, Okabe added.. — Reuter

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