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Zimbabwe government and international community must do more

22 December 2008

GENEVA -- “The severe crisis affecting Zimbabwe is ravaging the country with alarming speed. The government and the international community must do more to rebuild the health system, end the cholera epidemic, and ensure adequate food for all people” say four human rights experts of the United Nations.

“Zimbabwe’s health system has completely collapsed – it cannot control the cholera outbreak which is spreading throughout the country, with a daily increase in the death toll. New cholera cases are being reported with no medical system or staff with the capacity to contain the epidemic,” remarked the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, Mr Anand Grover. The Experts expressed particular concern about the closure of the main public hospitals due to lack of medical supplies and health professionals. They also highlighted the shortage of anti-retroviral therapies and essential medicines to treat acute diseases. The Experts emphasized that the participation of communities is crucial for the development and implementation of plans to rebuild the failing health system.

“There is no access to clean water sources and the country is faced with poor sanitation and meager waste disposal and management infrastructure greatly exacerbating the incidence of the disease” said the Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque. She noted that “unsafe drinking water is also contributing to severe malnutrition. Ensuring access to water and sanitation is essential to guarantee the human rights of the people of Zimbabwe.” With more and more people affected every day, the situation is becoming disastrous and is likely to deteriorate as the rainy season approaches, worried the Experts.

“There is just not enough food either at the national or household level. An estimated 5.5 million people may need food assistance. Food and agricultural production have decreased drastically. With rising unemployment, and hyperinflation due to several years of economic instability, people have been suffering for too long in Zimbabwe; their right to adequate food has to be fulfilled now,” argued the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr. Olivier De Schutter.

The Experts are particularly concerned that the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by the population and particularly the most disadvantaged groups is threatened by the escalating crisis in Zimbabwe. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms. Margaret Sekaggya noted that “the crisis is compounded by the use of unjustified force by the authorities in response to peaceful demonstrations and the recent abductions of human rights defenders.” Ongoing violations of civil and political rights, stated the Experts, make it harder for the authorities and the people of Zimbabwe to unite and cooperate with the international community to tackle the humanitarian crisis.

The Experts noted that “Zimbabwe had one of the best public health systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, and was considered its ‘breadbasket’. Stable systems for providing access to health, water, sanitation and food must be restored and respect for civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights assured.”

The Experts reiterated their willingness to work with the Government of Zimbabwe and the international community to find urgent solutions to these problems.

ENDS

The statement was signed by the following mandate holders of the UN Human Rights Council:
§ Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to safe drinking water and sanitation
§ Mr Anand Grover, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health
§ Mr. Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food
§ Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

For more information on the mandate holders of the Human Rights Council visit the website http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/index.htm

For more information or interviews, please contact: Mr Guillaume Pfeifflé, +41(0) 22.917.93.84, gpfeiffle@ohchr.org