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Many women said that after being displaced, they had to trek long distances to obtain water.International human rights law does not bar Zambia’s government from displacing people to make way for commercial farms or other projects.Ruth Mwitwa (left) and Gloria Kango were convicted of criminal trespass for being on land they have lived and farmed for decades, and now belongs to a commercial farmer.They were sentenced to three months’ imprisonment and were detained with their breastfeeding children.While many residents have long-term ties to the land and can assert legitimate tenure rights, some of the people being evicted may in fact have arrived recently and have few or no legitimate tenure rights to the land they occupy.However, in most of the cases we examined, evictions were carried out with little regard for the protections Zambian and international law both require in terms of due process, resettlement, or compensation.Human Rights Watch findings revealed that the situation in Serenje is not an aberration.
Rural people suffer when governments fail to properly regulate land deals, large or small, and the operation of commercial farms.Instead, it illustrates broken promises, governance failures, and human rights abuses connected with commercial farming.Zambian law requires that traditional chiefs—authorities recognized by government—consult with affected communities and obtain their consent before agreeing to convert lands under their control (known as customary areas) to state land that authorities can lease directly to investors.We focused on Serenje district because it represents both old (projects that have started production) and new agricultural ventures, providing an opportunity to examine human rights risks at all stages of investment.This district, in Zambia’s fertile and water-rich Central Province, houses the Nansanga farm block, which is part of Zambia’s “Farm Block Development Program,” in which the government is investing in infrastructure and offering favorable terms to entice investors.
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Gloria was also four months pregnant during her detention.