Tuesday, January 01, 2013

(NEWZIMBABWE) Government halts seizures of land under treaties

Government halts seizures of land under treaties
31/12/2012 00:00:00
by Staff Reporter

IN a major policy shift on the land question, government announced on Tuesday it was halting seizures of all white-owned farms covered under bilateral treaties.

The state was forced to review its course after being hit with a 25 million euros bill by a group of 40 Dutch farmers who successfully sued for damages after they were driven off their properties by the Zanu PF government.

With zero-recourse in Zimbabwe, the farmers took their grievances to the International Court for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), which ruled in 2009 that government should compensate them for their losses, plus interest.

While President Robert Mugabe has previously vowed no payment for any properties, Land Reform Minister Hebert Murerwa appeared to suggest a complete change of approach on Tuesday.

“Although under Zimbabwean law government can legally acquire such farms, in view of the ongoing litigation in the ISCID, we have taken the decision not to settle persons on farms covered by BIPPA for now,” Murerwa told the Herald newspaper.

“Government will abide by the provision of the agreement and at the same time we do not want to increase our liabilities.”

Murerwa added that offer letters already issued to black settlers to occupy such properties were being revoked.

The policy change follows deliberations by Zanu PF at its December conference on a report compiled by the party admitting that the land seizures were illegal and that the state had the obligation to pay the aggrieved farmers.

The document revealed that out of 153 farms covered by bilateral agreements, 116 of them have been expropriated under Mugabe’s chaotic and often violent land reforms that displaced more than 4,000 whites and left thousands of black farm workers without a paycheck.

While the party acknowledged the country had an obligation to compensate the farmers in line with Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements and international law, it concluded that government was too broke to make any payouts.

“The Dutch farmers who took the country to the International Court for Settlement of Investment Disputes and won have not been paid,” the Zanu PF report said.

“In addition, a German family, the Von Pezolds, has also taken us to the ISCID for their farm which we acquired and partly resettled. We are framing our defence with the Attorney General’s Office. The Von Pezolds claim is in the region of US$600 million.”

The SADC Tribunal also ruled four years ago that Zimbabwe’s land reforms were “racist” and ordered compensation for dozens of farmers.

But government protested the ruling and caused a regional political storm that led to the disbanding of the tribunal.

Farmers who have lost their properties covered by bilateral treaties include citizens of South Africa, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland and others countries.

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