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Zimbabwe: Supreme Court debt judgment is theft by conversion

by SADC Tribunal Rights Watch
27 Jan 2020 at 12:36hrs | Views
Impact of judgment and failure to resolve the land issue

SADC Tribunal Rights Watch is deeply concerned that the very foundations of the Zimbabwean economy have been rocked once again, this time by the judgment by Chief Justice Luke Malaba, who, in the Supreme Court has upheld the government's decree that one US dollar debt is now equal to 1 RTGS/bond dollar or ZW$.

This judgment, handed down on 20 January 2020, gives anyone who owes money prior to February 2019, the authority to effectively pay 5 US cents for every dollar they owe. This, unequivocally, is theft by conversion.

The Zimbabwe dollar has on average been trading at US$1:ZW$16 on the Interbank market and over 1:20 on the parallel market. Consequently, creditors will be getting ZW$ dollars that are far weaker than they were in February 2019.

"Farmers and others, who had prior payment agreements which government has failed to settle, will now receive those payments at a 95 percent discounted amount," said Ben Freeth, spokesperson for SADC Tribunal Rights Watch and executive director of the Mike Campbell Foundation.

"The amount that they receive will diminish even further as the controversial ZW$ dollar continues to lose value," he explained.

Freeth said that the organisation was also extremely worried about the continuing failure of the Zimbabwe government to resolve the land issue by re-establishing the rule of law and individual property rights.

"The violent seizure of commercial farms has continued in Zimbabwe for two decades, and continues even now," he said. "To date, less than one percent of the compensation bill has been settled."

The continuing deadlock has prejudiced the economy of tens of billions of US dollars in lost production and lost forex-generating capacity.

More urgently, it has left the country reliant on food imports and international food aid every year since 2001, the year after the farm invasions began.

The continued flouting of the rule of law and, more specifically, international judgments, has prevented commercial farmers who should be farming, from being allowed to farm.

In 2008, the regional human rights court, the SADC Tribunal, ordered fair compensation to be paid to three farmers by June 2009 in the Campbell case judgment: Mike Campbell (Pvt) Ltd et al. v. Republic of Zimbabwe.

"To date, not a single move has been made by the Zimbabwe government to settle this outstanding bill," said Freeth. "As such, the government remains in contempt of court. It also remains in contempt of court for continuing to prevent other genuine farmers from being allowed to farm."

SADC Tribunal Rights Watch calls on the Zimbabwe government to:

1. Respect the rule of law as per the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA) and compensate farmers fairly according to the SADC Tribunal judgments, the rule of law and international precedents, guidelines and norms.

2. Exorcise the draconian Section 72 of the Constitution as per the SADC Tribunal judgment - which ruled that its contents goes against the SADC Treaty - and pave the way for individual property rights to exist for the good of all.

3. In the event that the Zimbabwe government cannot find the tens of billions of dollars of compensation required, SADC Tribunal Rights Watch calls on the government to restore private property rights and the land market. This will resurrect billions of dollars of dead capital and give commercial farmers the wherewithal to invest - with full individual property rights - so that food production, employment and forex generation can once again take place in Zimbabwe.

"The United States and other nations are keen to assist the people of Zimbabwe but cannot do so until the rule of law has been restored and international judgments are adhered to," explained Freeth.

"This strategy will solve the escalating crisis in the country and will be to the benefit of all as the economy will be revived, the dire food deficit will be solved and Zimbabwe will once again thrive," he concluded.

Source - SADC Tribunal Rights Watch

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