Amnesty International has documented the deterioration in the human rights situation
in Zimbabwe in numerous reports.1 Since 2000 the government has used its supporters
and state agents to pursue a campaign of repression, aimed at eliminating opposition
and silencing dissent. State-sponsored intimidation, arbitrary arrest, torture and
attacks on supporters of the political opposition, human rights defenders and the
independent media have escalated sharply. Laws have been introduced which restrict
the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and prevent scrutiny of
the government’s actions.
The escalation in human rights violations has taken place against a backdrop of severe
economic decline and acute food insecurity. Since 2002 millions of people in
Zimbabwe have been dependent on local and international aid programmes for their
access to food; tens of thousands, however, are reported to have gone hungry, unable
to gain access to food for a variety of reasons.
The change in Zimbabwe’s food security situation has been dramatic. Until 2000 the
country regularly produced surplus grain for export (much of this to the rest of the
region).2 At this time the World Food Programme’s (WFP) only operation in
Zimbabwe was a procurement office from where it purchased Zimbabwean grain for
food aid programmes elsewhere in Africa.
While climatic factors, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and economic decline have all
contributed to the magnitude of food insecurity experienced in Zimbabwe, food
security experts, including the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO), have stated that government policies and practices have also been a factor in
the food crisis. The way in which the government’s “fast-track land reform
programme” has been implemented is a significant factor affecting domestic food
production and the ability of millions of people in Zimbabwe to access adequate
food.3 The fast-track land reform programme was launched shortly after the
Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) government - which has been in power since independence in 1980 - experienced it first major political defeat in a national referendum to change the constitution.
The government responded to the food security crisis in Zimbabwe with a range of
policy measures, including requesting food aid from the international community and
establishing controls on basic food items. Reports from organizations involved in
monitoring food security and human rights in Zimbabwe claim that the response to the
food crisis has been manipulated by the government for political gain.4 The statecontrolled
Grain Marketing Board (GMB) dominates the trade in and distribution of
maize (the staple food) in Zimbabwe; its near monopoly on imports and its poor
distribution system have been criticized for undermining the availability of maize
throughout the current food crisis.5 Discrimination in access to GMB grain has been
very widely reported.6
In May 2004 the government of Zimbabwe stated that the food crisis was over and
told the United Nations (UN) and international donors that Zimbabwe no longer
needed general food aid.7 Almost all independent monitors - and even some of the
government’s own agencies - dispute the claim that Zimbabwe’s 2004 harvest is
sufficient to meet the country’s needs.8 Local and international human rights groups,
as well as organizations involved in monitoring food security in Zimbabwe, believe
the government’s claims are part of a strategy to manipulate people through fear of
hunger ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2005.9
The government of Zimbabwe has a human rights obligation to respect, protect and
fulfil the right to adequate food for all persons under its jurisdiction. This report
examines the extent to which the government has fulfilled its obligations over the past
four years. It examines a range of government policies, including the impact of the
implementation of the fast-track land reform programme, and the government’s management of the food crisis. Recommendations are made on how to ensure the effective and full realization of the right to adequate food in Zimbabwe.
FAO/WFP, “Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Zimbabwe”, 1 June 2001.
FAO/WFP, “Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Zimbabwe”, reports for 2001, 2002, 2003 and FAO
“Special Report Zimbabwe”, 5 July 2004.
Amongst the many reports on this issue are: Zimbabwe National NGO Food Security Network, “Community
assessments of the food situation in Zimbabwe”, (various reports, 2002 – 2004); Physicians for Human Rights,
Denmark, “Hunger as a weapon of War: Zimbabwe since the elections”, May 2002; Physicians for Human Rights,
Denmark, “Vote ZANU-PF or starve”, October 2002; Amnesty International press release, “Assault and sexual
violence by militia”, 5 April 2002 (AI Index AFR 46/032/2002); Human Rights Watch, “Not Eligible: The
politicization of Food in Zimbabwe”, October 2003.
Zimbabwe NGO Food Security Network, (various reports, 2002 – 2004).
All references as for footnote 4.
The WFP continues to run supplementary feeding programmes targeting approximately half a million vulnerable
people, including young children.
See, for example: FAO, “Special Report, Zimbabwe”, 5 July 2004; WFP, “Emergency Report n.
34” 20 August 2004; Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), “Rural Food Supplies dwindle”, 15
Amnesty International interviews with representatives of civil society, Zimbabwe, February and June 2004;
Human Rights Watch, “The Politics of Food Assistance in Zimbabwe”, August 2004.