The Human Rights Commission (HRC) is appealing to the Government to consider suspending the eviction notices issued to thousands of families to vacate the Kalomo Hills Local Forest in Kalomo District and the Ndondi Joint Forest Management Area in Pemba District in Southern Province by 30th September 2018 until an amicable solution is found to avoid creating a humanitarian crisis of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
The Commission has received complaints from the affected families that the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources has issued them with eviction notices to vacate the Kalomo Hills Local Forest No. P 13 and Ndondi Joint Forest Management Area No. F181 by 30th September 2018, with a stern warning that those who will fail to comply “shall face the full force of the law”.
The Commission has also received a similar complaint that thousands of families received similar eviction notices ordering them to vacate their homes and stop their socio-economic activities in Ndondi Joint Forest Management Area F 181 in Pemba District of Southern Province. The initial deadline was for 30th June 2018 but it was reportedly verbally also extended to 30th September 2018. Ndondi Joint Forest Management Area is reported to be covering over 5,000 hectares of land and thousands of households have been residing for many decades.
According to the investigations by the Commission, Kalomo Hills Local Forest, which is in Siachitema and Chikanta Chiefdoms in Kalomo District of Southern Province, covers about 162,200 hectares of land. One-third of Siachitema Chiefdom is in the said Forest Reserve.
The Forest Reserve has over 34,000 people, 20 schools, 178 teachers, 10,000 pupils, 12,000 farmers, six (6) Health Facilities serving about 57,000 people, including those not in the Forest Reserve, over 150 Boreholes constructed by the Government and four (4) Communication Towers, among other public and community facilities. The commissioning of some of the public infrastructure in the Forest Reserves were reportedly being presided over and attended by senior government officials.
A copy of an eviction notice obtained by the Commission that was issued by the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources through the District Forestry Officer, reads in part, “You are hereby ordered to cease all activities, demolish any illegal structures as you have contravened the provisions of the Forest Act. No. 4 of 2015 and vacate the Forest Reserve by 30th September 2018. Failure to comply with this notice, you shall face the full force of the law”.
During the investigations, the Commission found that the villagers were living in fear of being forcibly evicted by law enforcement officers and were unable to prepare for the 2018/19 farming season as they did not know their fate. Traditional and other Community Leaders interviewed by the Commission appealed for protection of their subjects from being displaced from their “ancestral land”, which they said they first occupied as early as in 1830 when the first Chief Siachitema was reportedly born within the said area. However, the Government Officers interviewed informed the Commission that Kalomo Hills Local Forest, was gazetted a Forest Reserve under Government Notice No. 102 of 1952 and that there were no settlers at the time the land in question was declared a Forest Reserve.
The Commission is deeply concerned that the intended mass displacement of communities will result in a man-made humanitarian crisis and cause untold human rights violations associated with IDPs. The Commission is therefore calling upon the Government to strictly follow International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, particularly the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa to avoid violating the rights of the affected communities.
As the late former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan once noted, “Internal displacement is the great tragedy of our times. The internally displaced people are among the most vulnerable of the human family”.
The Notice ordering the villagers to stop all socio-economic activities, demolish their structures and vacate their homes in the Forest Reserves by 30th September 2018 has potential to create breakdown of families and disrupt social cohesion, peace and stability, in addition to causing widespread human rights violations in the respective communities. To this effect, the Commission is urging the Government to immediately issue a public statement assuring the frightened communities to remain calm and ignore the 30th September 2018 deadline to vacate their homes until an amicable and human rights-based solution is reached.
As a long term measure aimed at preventing and/or mitigating the impact of human rights violations that may be caused by mass displacement of families from the two Forest Reserves, the Commission is advising the Government to strictly adhere to its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, which may include providing alternative land for resettling the affected families before enforcing the eviction notices.
It must be emphasised that the Commission does not support lawlessness such as illegal encroachment on any land or property. However, mass evictions and displacement of communities without remedial measures such as alternative resettlement plans and /or compensation constitutes a violation of human rights.
The Commission is also taken aback by the fact that over the years, the government has either been facilitating by way of funding and allowing the construction of strategic public facilities such as schools, health, water supply and communication facilities within the Forest Reserves in question, thereby giving an impression that the areas were legal settlements. Therefore, in the interest of fairness, justice and respect for human rights, there is need for a negotiated and mutually agreed and beneficial resettlement plan or solution between the government and the affected local communities in this matter.
The Commission will continue engaging the relevant stakeholders with a view of finding an amicable solution that will strike a balance between any government decision based on compelling and overriding public interest on one hand and, on the other hand, the government’s obligation to protect and assist the IDPs.
[The Human Rights Commission is a National Human Rights Institution established under Article 230 of the Constitution of Zambian (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2016 to promote and protect Human Rights in Zambia]
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION