Save Zimbabwe plea by 200 NGOs

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The groups, including Amnesty International and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, released smuggled video footage showing hundreds of thousands of people on the move from shanty towns after police torched and bulldozed their homes.

The pictures of Operation Murambatsvina, or "Drive Out Trash", showed President Robert Mugabe had committed "a grave violation of international human rights law and a disturbing affront to human dignity," the coalition said.

The NGOs urged the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, as chairman of the AU, to put the crisis on the agenda of the AU assembly in July. "The AU and UN simply cannot ignore such an unprecedented, wide-ranging appeal on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe, particularly from African civil society," the coalition said. "African solidarity should be with the people of Africa – not their repressive leaders."

The appointment of a UN special envoy to investigate the destruction was welcomed by the groups. But they also called for the UN to publicly condemn the evictions and to take immediate action to stop them.

"Effective action must also be taken to help those already sleeping on the streets beside the rubble of their homes," they said.

President Mugabe defends the evictions as an urban renewal initiative. But the political opposition, whose support-base is largely made up of the urban poor, says the month-long campaign is meant to punish its supporters for voting against the ruling party in recent elections.