Landmark court ruling for farmers

In an unprecedented legal case, the 15 governments of the Southern African Development Community could soon find themselves explaining to the African Commission why they suspended the region’s human rights court last year.

The SADC tribunal was suspended in May 2011, after it ruled President Robert Mugabe’s land grab campaign was “racist” and “unlawful” in 2008.

Instead of holding Mugabe to account over his refusal to abide by these rulings, regional heads of state instead agreed to review the roles and functions of the court, effectively shutting it down and ensuring, in the process, that citizens could no longer approach the court after being denied justice in their own countries.

In a major breakthrough in the fight to reinstate the tribunal, the African Commission has acknowledged a formal complaint lodged last month and agreed to look into the case.

The landmark legal challenge has been spearheaded by two dispossessed Zimbabwean commercial farmers, Ben Freeth, 41, of Mount Carmel farm and Luke Tembani, 75, of Minverwag farm. The pair’s legal team now has two months to make further submissions, after which the Commission will proceed with deliberations on the admissibility of the complaint.

“We believe this will result in significant pressure to ensure that the tribunal is allowed to resume operations for the benefit of all victims of injustice and the abuse of power in southern Africa,” said Freeth.

It is the first time in legal history that a group of heads of state was cited by an individual as the respondent in an application to an international court

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