November 16, 2005

Rights groups petition Africa over Zimbabwe

By Stella Mapenzauswa and MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) - 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
humanitarian 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 Center on Housing Rights and
Evictions (COHRE) said in a statement.

"The silence of African leaders on Zimbabwe represents a
failure to honor 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 organizations.

A U.N. official said on Wednesday the Harare government had
finally accepted U.N. help to construct houses for thousand.

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 program to build houses after the
Harare government agreed after months of talks.

The acting director for the U.N. Information Center 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 program 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 program 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.