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NGO accuses government supporters of abusing food aid

[Kenya] People Queuing for food Aid.
Plusieurs réfugiés et personnes déplacées dépendent de l'aide alimentaire pour leur survie (OCHA)

A western human rights group has released a damning report accusing the Zimbabwean government of withholding food aid from Zimbabweans who voted for the opposition party in the controversial March election.

The Danish Doctors for Human Rights'(DDHR) report has sketched several cases of where families suspected of supporting the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had been turned away from food distribution sites or denied access to maize at supermarkets.

"The report has confirmed fears that government supporters had been using food aid as punishment for voting for the opposition," a human rights monitor, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal, told IRIN.

The report added that it was a misconception that government-sanctioned violence against the opposition had declined since the presidential election.

DDHR secretary Hans Draminsky told IRIN that the report aimed to raise awareness among donors about the possible political manipulation of food aid.

"Donors should be aware of the possibility that their donations could be used by the government of Zimbabwe to repress its political opponents and reward its supporters. Careful monitoring must take place down to the most local level," Draminsky said.

The doctors allegedly found proof of children who were denied access to food distribution points at schools because their parents were suspected of being MDC supporters.

In one instance in Matabeleland South, women who were at a food distribution point were told by the ZANU-PF district chairperson that MDC supporters were not entitled to maize, the report said.

Most NGOs responsible for food aid delivery in Zimbabwe corroborated the findings in the report or at least had heard of several cases of MDC supporters being denied food aid.

"Food aid has become the most politicised commodity in Zimbabwe today," the human rights monitor said.

Christian Aid programme officer Edward Watkiss said: "We have been fortunate that our feeding programme in schools has continued without incident but we have heard of kids turned away from food queues."

Watkiss added that feeding schemes carried out in schools were "the safest way to ensure that there was no discrimination as it was a lot more difficult for teachers to give food to some kids and turn others away".

Aid agencies suggested that the number of neutral monitors at feeding points be increased, however, the report said neutral monitoring is very difficult or even impossible to implement.

"Headmasters, local chiefs and headman were often affiliated to the ruling ZANU-PF party," the report said.

Said Draminsky: "Whether representatives from churches could take care of or be part of the monitoring, must be a decision taken on the ground. It is clear to us that if groups affiliated to ZANU-PF are involved in the food programmes, other political parties should be involved as well to make the programme politically neutral.

"And in cases where there is politically motivated discrimination, aid agencies should cancel the programme altogether. Food shall be given to everybody or to nobody."

Estimates of how many Zimbabweans face imminent starvation vary from 600,000 to 3 million, and the maize shortfall is estimated at between 400,000 mt and 1 million mt.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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