THE Zimbabwe government has admitted that it wronged white commercial farmers when it violently evicted them from their farms at the height of Zanu PF-i
nstigated land invasions in 2000.
During an International Centre for Settlement of the Investment Disputes arbitration hearing in Paris, France, a fortnight ago between government and Dutch farmers, the state did not raise objections to farmers’ claims that it breached the Netherlands-Zimbabwe bilateral investment treaty and therefore was liable to all the losses and damage incurred.
“In a rather unusual turn of events, Zimbabwe did not raise objections to the tribunal’s jurisdiction, thus ensuring that written and oral arguments on the merits would proceed forthwith,” said the International Institute for Sustainable Development newsletter, Investment Treaty News (ITN), dated October 30.
ITN is a reporting service on international treaties governing overseas business investments and on lawsuits which arise under these treaties, pitting foreign investors against host governments.
The agreements have significant public policy implications in the areas of health, environmental protection, economic development and taxation.
The claimants, all Dutch nationals, allege that their agricultural land holdings were subjected to violent invasion and seizure by self-professed war veterans, culminating in their confiscation by the state without payment of financial compensation.
They further allege that the Zimbabwe police failed to provide physical protection and security as guaranteed by the Netherlands-Zimbabwe bilateral investment treaty.
Giving evidence to a tribunal in Paris, Lands and Security minister Didymus Mutasa said the move by the Dutch farmers to seek compensation was in order as the government did not honour its obligations under a government-to-government agreement between Zimbabwe and the Netherlands.
“The Zimbabwean government acknowledged that certain ‘deprivations’ had taken place without payment of compensation,” ITN said. “The government insisted that this was the ‘only issue for arbitration’, adding that it would ‘pay compensation in full as and when it is able to do so’, an apparent reference to the straitened economic situation in which the hyperinflation-wracked country finds itself.”
Mutasa, whose European Union travel ban was temporarily lifted to allow him to attend the hearing, said the government was not in a position to compensate the farmers now.
The farmers took their case to the Washington-based ICSID calling on the government to admit breaching a bilateral investment treaty with the Netherlands.
The court is expected to present its ruling on the amount of compensation the farmers should receive before March next year.
The farmers are claiming a total of US$48 million from the Zimbabwean government.
If the government fails to pay, the farmers would have the right to seize any Zimbabwe government property outside the country including loans from the World Bank and export earnings.
There are an additional 50 farmers from Switzerland, Germany and Denmark whose lands were seized and who are also preparing to go to the tribunal demanding compensation. All of them come from countries that had similar treaties with Zimbabwe.
The developments at the ICSID come at a time when government faces yet another land acquisition challenge in a case filed with the Sadc Tribunal and set to be heard in Windhoek next week.
The Sadc Tribunal will hear the case, the very first, on November 20 2007 in Windhoek, Namibia in which farmer, William Michael Campbell of Mount Carmel Farm in Chegutu, is seeking relief for himself, his family and all of his employees from harassment on his farm. He is seeking an urgent interim interdict from such interference pending a full hearing on the fundamental legal issues at stake in the Zimbabwe land seizures.
Campell is currently facing criminal charges at the Chegutu Magistrates’ court for failing to stop farming opera-tions and faces up to two years in prison if