[JURIST] Four white Zimbabwean farmers were charged Thursday with trespassing on state property for failing to vacate farms that were seized by the government. The charges are in defiance of a November ruling by the South African Development Community Tribunal [official website] that ordered Zimbabwe to halt [JURIST report] its controversial Land Reform Program [official website]. The tribunal held that the program's seizure of white-owned farms was racially motivated and therefore contrary to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) [official website] treaty [text, DOC], but government officials said that they would disregard the ruling [JURIST report], saying the program was justified because it corrected past racial disparities which had favored white farmers. Officials said the government would continue to operate the program and seize any remaining white-owned farms. The farmers could face up to two years in jail [Bloomberg report] if convicted. A hearing is set for January 5.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] has been harshly criticized [Guardian report] for his farm program, which since 2000 has sought to redistribute white-owned land among the nation's indigenous farmers. In February 2006, Lands Minister Didymus Mutasa [government profile] said that, following controversial constitutional reforms, there are no longer any white farmers operating legally in Zimbabwe [JURIST report]. Many observers attribute Zimbabwe's disastrous economic circumstances – including an inflation rate exceeding 231,000,000 percent [Guardian report] – to the policy, under which previously productive farms have become barren under new inexperienced owners.