The Hague — The Zimbabwe governments' mass eviction campaign, Operation Murambatsvina, was a crime against humanity and could be referred to the International Criminal Court by the United Nations Security Council. This is the finding of a comprehensive independent legal opinion released Wednesday outside the International Criminal Court by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).
Jean du Plessis, Executive Director (a.i.) of COHRE, said, "The magnitude of the crimes committed during Operation Murambatsvina demand an international response. We call for this case to be dealt with as a matter of urgent priority by the Security Council, in order to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to book and to prevent any recurrence."
Operation Murambatsvina took place between May and July 2005, though some evictions still continue, and up to 700,000 people were forcibly and often brutally evicted. A Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, Anna Tibaijuka, made extensive recommendations at the time but a recent UN-Habitat report indicates they have not been implemented, including a failure by Zimbabwe to prosecute those responsible.
The independent legal opinion on crimes against humanity concludes that there is sufficient evidence that the crimes of forced displacement, Article 7(1)(d) of the Rome Statute, was committed during Operation Murambatsvina. The victims were lawfully present in Zimbabwe and the evictions were a widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population as part of a State policy, and were not justified on grounds permitted under international law. The opinion also finds that the evictions constitute an inhumane act under Article 7(1)(k) due to the immense physical and mental suffering meted out to the victims. The Security Council therefore has authority to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court under the Rome Statute.
rnold Tsunga, Executive Director of ZLHR, commented: "The use of organised violence and torture by the State against its own people with impunity has gone on for far too long in Zimbabwe. There is no justification for the world to powerlessly watch while ordinary men, women and children are tormented by their own government. It is time to refer this case to the ICC."
At the launch, Zimbabwe Watch, a Dutch-based organisation, released a separate legal opinion indicating that the Zimbabwe evictions could also be prosecuted in various national jurisdictions, the most notably South Africa, The Netherlands, Germany and Spain. Pascal Richard of ZimbabweWatch said: "Prosecutors and advocates in jurisdictions outside Zimbabwe should study the possibility, in close collaboration with the International Criminal Court, of launching prosecutions as soon as possible."
COHRE, ZLHR and ZimbabweWatch specifically called on the 15 members of the UN Security Council, namely Belgium, China, France, Ghana, Indonesia Italy, Panama, Peru, Qatar, Republic of the Congo, Russian Federation, Slovakia, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, to adopt the findings of the legal opinion and refer the issue to the ICC.