Dutch farmers sue for US$16m

The influential Financial Times reported this week on the group of dispossessed Dutch farmers who have taken advantage of an investment treaty between Zimbabwe and the Netherlands that enables them to bypass Zimbabwean courts.
The farmers, who bred cattle and produced tobacco, flowe

rs, maize, coffee and soybeans, are each seeking around US$1m for loss of property and agricultural equipment.
The lawsuit has been launched at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an arbitration tribunal housed at the World Bank in Washington. It underlines the potential for private litigants to sue governments for compensation in politically explosive areas using official bilateral investment treaties.
The farmers allege that Mugabe’s government breached its international law obligations by failing to provide adequate police protection for Dutch property owners in Zimbabwe between 2000 and 2002 and by actively supporting a series of violent land invasions that led to their farms being abandoned. They add that the Zimbabwean government subjected them to unlawful racial discrimination by targeting white farmers.
The Zimbabwe Attorney General’s office was supposed to file its evidence by June 15, but missed the deadline. The court has given an extension until Friday this week and stated it would be reluctant to grant further extensions.
Zimbabwe’s deputy ambassador to the US, Gideon Gapare, reportedly told the FT Zimbabwe was “fully co-operating” with the proceedings but declined to comment on the merits of the case.
A handful of countries, including Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, have investment protection treaties with Zimbabwe. A treaty with the UK – which boasted the largest number of nationals farming in Zimbabwe – was never ratified.
Agric Africa, a UK-based group that has helped co-ordinate the Dutch farmers’ arbitration claim, has received a small grant from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, a non-profit organisation established by the financier and philanthropist George Soros.

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