Taking African governments to court is not easy as national courts are often unwilling or unable to prosecute heads of state or other government officials. The SADC Tribunal provides those whose rights have been violated and abused by their governments a fair and impartial court where they can hold governments accountable and seek redress. Unfortunately this Tribunal was suspended by the leaders of southern Africa in 2010 and remains suspended to date.
For the past six years, these leaders have been engaged in a process aimed at taking away the power of this court to hear human rights cases. Individuals will no longer be allowed to bring grievances before the Tribunal as it will be limited to hearing disputes between states only.
In August 2015, these leaders will be meeting in Botswana for their annual Summit of Heads of State and Government. We need to send a clear message to them that the people of SADC believe that the Tribunal is important and want to maintain it as it is. There is an on-line petition that can be signed in support of this.
Between 2007 and 2009 the Tribunal heard and decided a number of cases against the Zimbabwean government. In 2009, the government of Zimbabwe challenged the legitimacy of the Tribunal and in August 2010, the leaders of SADC announced that there would be a review of the Tribunal. The Tribunal was suspended pending the review.
An independent review found that the Tribunal was properly constituted with authority under international law to hear individual petitions regarding human rights violations. Despite this, the suspension of the Tribunal was extended for another year and the Ministers of Justice and Attorney Generals of SADC were tasked with conducting another review. In June 2012 the Ministers decided the Tribunal should be changed so that it could no longer hear human rights cases until the adoption of a SADC human rights Protocol. They however, thought individuals should still be able to take other cases not related to human rights before the Tribunal.
The leaders of SADC however, negotiated another protocol removing, not only the human rights mandate, but also the ability of individuals to access the Tribunal.
In August 2014 this new protocol was signed at the SADC Summit by nine leaders of SADC States. Before the Tribunal can be changed, 10 of the SADC countries will have to sign and ratify the new protocol. It has only be signed by nine countries so far and no country has ratified it.
Why is the suspension and possible change to the SADC Tribunal a negative thing?
Leaders of countries have been known to abuse their powers and this abuse can take the form of violation of human rights. National courts are not always independent and impartial. In some cases they are unwilling or unable to take up cases against governments. They may also be unwilling to make a decision against the government for fear of repercussions from the government.
The SADC Tribunal provides an extra layer of protection for human rights. If the new protocol is ratified people in SADC will be deprived of a competent Tribunal for attaining an effective remedy against the violation of their rights when national courts are unwilling or unable to help.Post published in: Africa News