UN says ban on aid groups violates human rights

HARARE - United Nations (UN) agencies in Zimbabwe on Monday said a government ban on humanitarian aid violated fundamental human rights principles and had created life threatening conditions for more than two million vulnerable people who survived on donor support.

The UN Country Team (UNCT) said worsening political violence that has destroyed homes, property and livelihoods of victims made the move to stop relief agencies from working in Zimbabwe all the more devastating for the thousands of children and women affected by hunger and displaced by violence.

The decision by government to suspend all private voluntary organisations (PVO/NGO) field operations further exacerbates this vulnerability, thus creating avoidable life threatening conditions for many, the UNCT said in a scathing attack on President Robert Mugabe’s government.

The government on Thursday suspended all work by aid agencies in the country, accusing them of using aid distribution to campaign for the opposition ahead of a second round run-off election later this month between Mugabe and opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Relief agencies deny interfering in Zimbabwe’s political affairs while the European Union, the United States, local church and human rights groups have critcised the ban and called for it to be lifted.

The UN team said the aid ban had in one swoop cut off support to tens of thousands of orphans and vulnerable children who received life sustaining support from aid agencies on daily basis.

The ban also disrupted donor-backed community programmes to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, while thousands of people who received basic support such as clean water, sanitation and education support services were left without help.

The country team urged the government to rescind the ban in order to enable NGOs to expand access of basic humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations throughout the country.

The UN team also called on Mugabe’s government, all political parties and other stakeholders to act to end political violence that the team said had exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.

The MDC accuses Mugabe of unleashing state security forces and ZANU PF militias to wage violence against its supporters in an attempt to regain the upper hand in the second ballot after the veteran leader lost the first round poll in March to Tsvangirai.

The opposition party claims that at least 63 of its members have been killed while more than 25 000 others have been displaced by political violence and were in need of urgent humanitarian support.

The government however denies committing violence and instead blames the MDC of carrying out violence in a bid to tarnish Mugabe’s name.

Zimbabwe, once a regional breadbasket, has grappled with severe food shortages since 2000 when Mugabe launched his haphazard fast-track land reform exercise that displaced established white commercial farmers and replaced them with either incompetent or inadequately funded black farmers.

An economic recession marked by the world’s highest inflation rate of more than 165 000 percent has exacerbated the food crisis, with the government out of cash to import food, while many families that would normally be able to buy their own food supplies are unable to do so because of an increasingly worthless currency.

Most households – especially the poor in rural areas – now depend on handouts from foreign governments and relief agencies to survive. – ZimOnline

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