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SADC leaders clamp down on human rights court

SADC leaders clamp down on human rights court

By Tererai Karimakwenda
20 August 2012

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 

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 

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.


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