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Zimbabwe: Power and hunger - violations of the right to food

Amnesty International

15 October 2004

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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.

  1. See:
  2. FAO/WFP, “Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Zimbabwe”, 1 June 2001.
  3. FAO/WFP, “Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Zimbabwe”, reports for 2001, 2002, 2003 and FAO “Special Report Zimbabwe”, 5 July 2004.
  4. 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.
  5. Zimbabwe NGO Food Security Network, (various reports, 2002 – 2004).
  6. All references as for footnote 4.
  7. The WFP continues to run supplementary feeding programmes targeting approximately half a million vulnerable people, including young children.
  8. 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 September 2004.
  9. 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.

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