HRW urges government to protect families

Government actions in suppressing protests at Chingwizi transit camp in Masvingo could trigger a deeper humanitarian crisis, says the southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch, Tiseke Kasambala.

Kasambala said recent developments at the camp, where around 20,000 people are living, should not be an excuse for government to shut down the camp without plans to protect the displaced.

“The government should ensure that the displaced people are not denied their rights under international law and Zimbabwe’s constitution, including the rights to health, shelter, food and the prohibition of torture,” said Kasambala.

“The government should urgently restore health facilities at the camp, direct police to end their violence, and assure those in hiding that they can return to the camp safely.”

Earlier this month, anti-riot police beat and arrested hundreds of people at Chingwizi following protests that broke out after government closed the camp’s only health clinic.

About 30 police officers stationed at the camp attempted to quell the protests and violence broke out. Two police vehicles were burned.

The government has been trying to relocate residents to the Nuanetsi ranch in Mwenezi district, Masvingo province.? According to the statement, witnesses at the camp told HRW that two days after the protests, more than 200 armed anti-riot police arrived at the camp and indiscriminately beat up and arrested close to 300 people.

Most of the villagers were later released, but 29 were charged with public violence. Lawyers representing those arrested alleged that their clients were assaulted and tortured by the police during the arrests and in custody. Those arrested include the chairperson of the Chingwizi camp committee, Mike Mudyanembwa.

“Groups working at the camp estimate that possibly as many as half of the people living in the camp, most of them men, have left the camp and are in hiding, without access to food or aid,” read a statement from Human Rights Watch.

“A 65-year-old man hiding in the mountains told HRW that he had been separated from his wife and children as they fled police violence. He did not know where they were and said he was afraid to return to the camp.”

According to HRW, people living in the camp believe the closure of the clinic was part of the government’s attempt to coerce them to move to another settlement at Bongo.

Many people have refused to move because they have been told by officials they will receive only one-hectare tracts of land instead of the five hectares they had been promised.

“In addition, the land is privately owned, which precludes land tenure rights for them, thereby making them tenants instead of land owners,” read the statement.

“They have also said that they have been told they would only be permitted to grow sugar cane, as opposed to crops that could feed their families. The displaced villagers are demanding fair and just compensation before relocation.”

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