Zimbabwe: New Report Reveals Political Manipulation of Access to Food

The report, 'Zimbabwe: Power and Hunger, Violations of the Right to Food,' finds that the food distribution system has been used to discriminate against supporters of the political opposition. It examines government policies including the controversial 'fast track land reform programme,' and the government's response to the food crisis through the operations of the government-controlled Grain Marketing Board (GMB), and also criticises the international food aid programme.

There is mounting evidence that people in Zimbabwe are suffering from hunger. Although the government has claimed that the 2004 harvest was a 'bumper crop,' many independent monitors, including the UN and local and international non-governmental organisations involved in food security, dispute the government’s figures. However, the government has insisted it does not need international food aid and, since mid 2004, most food aid distribution in Zimbabwe has ceased.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Mike Blakemore said: 'Implementation of the 'fast track land reform programme' has been marred by violence, corruption and a blatant disregard for the rule of law. Hundreds have lost their lives, tens of thousands have lost their livelihoods and, with it, their access to adequate food.'

As a result of the way in which the land reform programme has been implemented agriculture has been disrupted, fertile land has gone unplanted and thousands of agricultural jobs have been lost. All this at a time when poverty and food insecurity meant millions of people in Zimbabwe were dependent on food aid.

The report criticises the government's response to the food crisis in Zimbabwe. The near-monopoly of the state-controlled Grain Marketing Board (GMB) on trade in and distribution of maize (the staple food for millions of people in Zimbabwe) has been used by the government to control food supplies and to manipulate food for political purposes, both to discriminate against supporters of the political opposition, and to force farm workers to work for the newly resettled farms at low rates of pay.

Mike Blakemore continued: 'In numerous cases only those who can prove membership of ZANU-PF have been allowed to access maize distributed by the GMB. During election campaigns voters’ access to food has been threatened unless they vote for ZANU-PF.'

Discrimination has also been a problem in the international food aid programme. While donors have sought to prevent manipulation of international food aid by the government and its supporters, they have themselves been unwilling to provide food aid to newly resettled farms in need, reportedly because they believe this would legitimise the land reform process.

Mike Blakemore said: 'By allowing political motives to interfere with the provision of assistance to those in need, donors may also have undermined the efforts of those humanitarian actors who distribute assistance without discrimination, thus further denying the population of Zimbabwe badly needed help.'

Amnesty International is concerned that the cessation of most international food aid distribution is leaving millions of people dependent on grain distributed via the GMB. It is unclear whether the GMB has sufficient resources to meet needs.

The organisation is further concerned about potential further violations of the rights to adequate food in the context of the 2005 elections, given the GMB’s history of discriminatory distribution of grain and the pattern of abuse of access to food at times of elections over the past two years.

Mike Blakemore concluded: 'The government must allow independent monitoring of the food security situation in Zimbabwe and ensure transparency and accountability in the operations of the GMB.'

Amnesty International is calling on the Zimbabwe government, as a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICSECR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), to take immediate steps to fulfil its obligations without discrimination of any kind.

The organisation also calls on international donors to ensure that both development and humanitarian aid policies are based on human rights principles, including ensuring non-discrimination.

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