Outrage as court dismisses Tribunal ruling

ben_freeth_mike_campbellHARARE - The shock decision last week by the High Court to dismiss a 2008 regional ruling on the unlawful land reform programme has sparked an angry outcry, with some observers calling it a travesty of justice. (Pictured: Michael Campbell (hat) and his son-in-law

Justice Barack Patel last Tuesday dismissed a finding by the human rights court of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which ruled that President Robert Mugabes land grab campaign was unlawful.

Patel said the regional Tribunals ruling would have no effect in Zimbabwe because of the possible political upheaval that reversing 10 years of land seizures would cause. He added that enforcing the Tribunals ruling would be against Zimbabwes domestic laws and agrarian policies, noting that the greater public good must prevail.??

Political enormity

Apart from the political enormity of any such exercises, it would entail the eviction, upheaval and eventual relocation of many, if not most, of the beneficiaries of the land reform programme, Justice Patel said.?

The SADC Tribunals ruling in 2008 came as a hard won victory for a group of 79 commercial farmers who had all either lost land, or been targeted for land invasion, under the chaotic land grab campaign.

Led by Chegutu farmer, Michael Campbell and his son-in-law Ben Freeth, the farmers took their battle before the Tribunal in an effort to secure their property rights. The Tribunal ordered that the government respect those rights and compensate the farmers who had already lost land. As a SADC member state, Zimbabwe was meant to adhere to the Tribunal ruling.

But the farmers battle did not end there and the often violent drive to remove the remaining commercial farmers from productive land in Zimbabwe has continued to intensify.

Campbell is no longer on the property which was violently invaded last year by thugs working for top ZANU PF official, Nathan Shamuyarira. All the crops were stolen along with much of the farming equipment. Both the Campbells and the Freeths properties were burnt down, as well as the homes of their workers, who were also beaten and brutalised.

Null and void

At least 80 other properties have also, since the SADC ruling in late 2008, been forcibly taken over, in direct contravention of the Tribunals orders. The government has previously dismissed the SADC ruling as null and void, and last year announced it was no longer abiding by the Tribunals orders.

The farmers meanwhile have not been able to have the ruling enforced, because the courts have on different occasions refused to register it. SADC treaty law states that enforcement of the Tribunals orders must take place in accordance with local laws. In 2008, an urgent application filed by Campbell to have the Tribunals ruling registered was deemed not urgent by the High Court.

Tuesdays ruling by Justice Patel was in connection with yet another attempt to have the SADC Tribunal ruling registered and enforced. But in a decision that has shocked supporters of the SADC ruling, Justice Patel dismissed it as a threat to agrarian reform in Zimbabwe.??

Justice Patel concluded by saying that there is an overwhelmingly negative impact of the Tribunals decision on domestic law and agrarian reform in Zimbabwe, and not withstanding the international obligations of the Government I am deeply satisfied that the registration and consequent enforcement of that judgment would be fundamentally contrary to the public policy of this country.

A rights group set up to actively campaign for the support and enforcement of the SADC land ruling, reacted with shock and anger on Wednesday. The group, SADC Tribunal Rights watch, is led by Ben Freeth.

Entrenching abuse

Speaking to SW Radio Africa on Wednesday he said that it is a sad day for any country rife with human rights abuse, when a member of the judiciary entrenches the future possibility of human rights abuse.

Freeth added that far from being for the public good, the land reform program has indisputably been a programme of violent, forced eviction that has resulted in the total collapse of agriculture in Zimbabwe. ??

More than 4,000 farming families and at least a million of their workers and their families have been driven off the land and out of their homes since Mugabe launched the land grab campaign a decade ago.

The countrys leading agricultural workers union, GAPWUZ, has said that at least 60% of workers evicted in the land reform exercise were beaten and brutalised by land invaders. Farmers, who kept in contact with their staff after eviction, have reported that 40% have died since losing their homes and jobs.

Meanwhile most of the beneficiaries of land reform have been top Zanu (PF) officials, who now own multiple properties. These farms have mostly been left to run barren, leaving the breadbasket of Africa almost wholly dependent on food aid.

The judge, in his attempt to legalise a programme of ethnic cleansing, has joined the ranks of other judges under dictatorial regimes such as in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Soviet Union and left Zimbabweans more exposed than ever to further abuse by the Zimbabwe Government, Freeth said.

No comment

Within hours of the ruling, rights groups such as the SADC Tribunal Rights Watch, as well as observers and supporters of the SADC ruling, were expressing their outrage, but surprisingly there has been no comment yet from SADC.

They have remained completely silent throughout the entire time that the Zimbabwe government has ignored its ruling. This latest High Court ruling effectively dismisses the legal powers of the SADC Tribunal that Zimbabwe, as a signatory to the SADC Treaty, is bound to respect.

One would also assume that other SADC member states, like South Africa, would have expressed some concern that the regions statutes of human rights were being publicly flouted by Zimbabwe. But no country in the region has commented yet.

There has also been no criticism or response from the MDC, which recently indicated that ongoing land attacks could be added to their list of outstanding issues of the Global Political Agreement (GPA). The party last week said it was concerned by ongoing land invasions, but it has not commented on this latest development.

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