Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Land case referred to international court

By Alex Bell

An international tribunal has been appointed to consider the case of a German farming family in Zimbabwe, whose three farms were illegally invaded by ZANU PF members in June.

The von Pezold family, who are the largest German investors in Zimbabwe, were forced to approach the Paris-based International Centre for Settlement (ICSID) of Investment Disputes in July, after the farms were invaded.

At the time, Germany’s government threatened to cut off all aid to Zimbabwe unless the reportedly armed and alcohol fuelled ZANU PF mob that invaded the properties was ordered to leave. The land invaders are said to have looted maize and other crops valued at more than a million dollars before they left the farms after a three week long stand off with the von Pezolds.

The ICSID has now appointed a three-member arbitration tribunal to consider the case filed by the von Pezold family, who are suing the Zimbabwe government for loss of income and for failing to act against the land invaders.

The properties are meant to be covered by a bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement between Zimbabwe and Germany, which was formed in 1995, but which only came into force in 2000. The agreement is meant to protect all investments by Germans in Zimbabwe, including agricultural investments, and precludes any farms from ‘expropriation’ under the land grab campaign.

This will be the second time the Zimbabwe government had been dragged before the ICSID, after a group of Dutch nationals in April last year won its case after their farms were invaded. The Dutch farmers argued that their properties were protected by a BIPPA, under which Zimbabwe promised to pay full compensation to Dutch nationals in disputes arising out of any investments in the country.

The Dutch group has still not been compensated despite winning their case in the Paris court last year. They have now approached an American court seeking an enforcement order, and the court is reportedly ready to attach Zimbabwean owned properties in the compensation case.

There have been several attempts to try and force the Zimbabwe government to compensate farmers who have lost land because of Robert Mugabe’s land grab scheme, but all court orders, whether domestic or international, are being blatantly ignored.

Critically, the regional Tribunal which ruled in 2008 that Mugabe’s land grab was unlawful has been suspended this year, in what critics say is an attempt to appease Mugabe. The court had ordered the government to compensate farmers for properties that had been illegally seized and protect the remaining commercial farming community from new threats. But this order has been completely ignored and farm invasions have continued unabated, despite the formation of the unity government.

John Worsley-Worswick from Justice for Agriculture (JAG) explained on Tuesday that it is important for these rulings to be made, despite the breakdown of the rule of law in Zimbabwe. He said that while there is a “total abandonment of the judiciary,” it is just a temporary issue.

“At some stage in the future the judiciary will have to be revamped and there will be a return to property rights,” Worsley-Worswick said.

The JAG official added that this latest case before the ICSID needs to be dealt with more comprehensively than the previous Dutch case, saying: “Compensation claims are now beyond just the value of the land that was seized.” He explained that the question of what constitutes compensation has changed in light of a recent ruling this year by a British asylum court. The court dismissed an asylum application by a confessed land invader, and stated that the land grab scheme was a crime against humanity.

“This level of illegality should underwrite compensation claims of farmers and their workers,” Worsley-Worswick said, adding: “Other issues now enter into this, and these are issues of damages and disturbances losses.”

Worsley-Worswick said that issues of lost income for both farmers and their works, plus relocation costs, trauma costs and the length of time people have been waiting for compensation, must be taken into account in future cases. He added: “It is critical that these rulings are made in international courts to set the necessary precedent.” SW Radio Africa