SADC leaders clamp down on human rights court

SADC heads of state who met in Maputo for the annual summit over the weekend have been accused of “shutting the doors” to the SADC Tribunal to the region’s citizens, following a decision to limit the court’s Protocol to dealing only with conflicts between member states.

A final communique issued at the summit on Saturday said SADC leaders had “resolved that a new Protocol on the Tribunal should be negotiated and its mandate confined to interpretation of the SADC Treaty and Protocols relating to disputes between Member States.”

The Tribunal’s original mandate allowed the court to hear and decide on cases brought by individual citizens, who felt they had been denied justice in their home countries. The weekend decision essentially leaves no legal recourse for individuals seeking justice, therefore undermining the rule of law.

The SADC Tribunal was suspended in 2010, after the Mugabe regime dismissed a ruling by the court which said his chaotic land grab exercise was illegal and racist. But Mugabe dismissed the ruling and challenged the legality of the Tribunal. Rather than deal with the issue the SADC leaders suspended the court’s operations instead.

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) have strongly criticised the SADC leaders. They had expected the Summit to adopt the recommendations from their own Ministers of Justice and Attorneys-General from the region, which limited the human rights mandate of the Tribunal while a new Protocol was decided on.

“This weekend’s decision goes far further in narrowing the Tribunal’s mandate. Individuals won’t have any access to the Tribunal whatsoever, no matter what type of case is concerned,” the Centre’s director Nicole Fritz told SW Radio Africa.

She added: “Most of cases that were heard by the Tribunal so far had been brought by individuals. Member states almost never bring cases against each other before the courts. They try and resolve their disputes by diplomatic means. So the SADC tribunal is essentially not going to be worth the expense.”

Civic society groups that had also lobbied for the revival of the Tribunal have said they are disappointed with the decision to block individual cases.

Nobel peace prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu was one of the campaigners fighting for the court’s re-instatement. He had described it as “a place where crimes could not go unpunished and victims of injustice and human rights abuses could turn with confidence”, adding: “but that house is now in grave danger.”

Tutu had warned that “the region will lose a vital ally of its citizens, its investors and its future” if SADC leaders did not revive the court. “It is up to all of us to ensure that SADC not only reinstates the Tribunal but also strengthens it,” Tutu was quoted as saying.

SW Radio Africa News

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