6 November 2008

Zimbabwe: Country in Serious Breach of SADC Tribunal Ruling On Land

77 farmers were granted a temporary relief to stay on their farms by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal held in Namibia in March. However there have been many infringements of this ruling by the Mugabe regime, as disruptions on commercial farms continue.

Ben Freeth, one of the affected farmers, said while the SADC States are taking the law and human rights abuses seriously, the Zimbabwean government is showing the contempt in which it holds the law and the well being of its people. Freeth said: "When farmers are being illegally prevented from farming and the people are starving there is a strong case for it being termed as a crime against humanity."

The tribunal stated in March: "Accordingly, we order that the Republic of Zimbabwe shall take no steps, or permit to be taken, directly or indirectly, whether by its agents or by orders, to evict from, or interfere with, the peaceful residence on, and the beneficial use of, their properties in respect of the applicants/interveners referred to in the previous paragraph, their employees and the families of such employees."

However, the Zimbabwean government has been in breach, and in contempt of the orders of the tribunal, as none of the 77 interveners in the case have "the beneficial use of their properties", as they are still being denied access to large portions of their land.

Instead of complying with the demands of the highest court in the region, the Zimbabwean authorities have responded by taking steps in the local courts, resulting in three farmers being convicted and sentenced to vacate their properties, or face a jail sentence. Four other farmers with SADC tribunal protection are also facing prosecution in the Zimbabwean courts.

The commercial farmers took the Zimbabwean government back to the tribunal in July, on a contempt of court issue. The government was held in contempt of the tribunal and the matter was referred to the SADC Heads of State at the summit held in August in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Heads of Governments then referred the issue to their Ministers of Justice, but Ben Freeth says the farmers are at the moment in the dark as to what the ministers have done regarding any kind of censure, since the regime continues to be is in contempt of the tribunal and the SADC treaty. But no one seems to be doing anything about it.

The affected farmers say the last couple of months have seen an increase in the number of 'invaders' appearing on properties that had been granted a staying order by the regional tribunal. Freeth said the country is reeling under severe food shortages and yet disruptions on commercial farms are continuing and farmers being blocked from growing food. In the Chiredzi and Chinhoyi areas police and army generals are at the forefront of the disruptions on the farms, covered by the SADC tribunal interim relief.

The commercial farmer said a Senior Assistant Commissioner Veterai, who calls himself 'untouchable,' continues to live on Farm 30 Hippo Valley Estate, owned by Digby Nesbitt in Chiredzi. "He has actually been living in Digby Nesbitt's house for months now, with Digby Nesbitt, and is in complete contempt, and yet no one wants to touch him because he is an Assistant Commissioner of the police."

Freeth alleges that a Major General Dube kicked Paul Stidolph off Grand Parade farm in Karoi and "stole his whole tobacco crop."

In many cases food grown by the commercial farmers is being deliberately destroyed, despite the country teetering on the brink of starvation. The President of the Commercial Farmers Union, Doug Taylor Freeme, who used to farm 1 600 hectares, had only been able to plant 70 hectares in Makonde South district. But just this past Saturday, The UK Sunday Telegraph reported: "Before he forced his way on to Mr Taylor-Freeme's land last week, Chief Nemakonde, who is in his late 60s and has several wives and scores of children, sent men to torch a field of winter wheat stalks, meaning there will be no hay for cattle."

Freeth told us of another commercial farmer, Louis Fick, who lost 200 animals who died, when he was stopped from taking food to them by illegal invaders.

"One wonders what SADC's commitment is to justice and the rule of law when they are just allowing these things to take place and the tribunal to be ignored. What does the SADC treaty mean if they are not prepared to actually do something about ensuring that the rule of law is upheld in Zimbabwe?" Freeth asked.

The SADC tribunal is expected to pass final judgement on the Zimbabwean farmers' case on November 28th. Freeth said this will be critical, and a real test to see where the tribunal stands, as far as property rights are concerned.

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