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SADC Leaders unlawfully undermining Regional Tribunal, say legal groups

NEWS RELEASE                               


8 November, 2010




Johannesburg:  Heads of State from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have unlawfully sabotaged the SADC Tribunal and undermined the right of citizens to access justice, according to a legal opinion submitted on Friday by a group of respected legal and human rights organisations.


The opinion contends that SADC leaders – particularly at the last Heads of State Summit in Windhoek – have deliberately undermined the Tribunal by violating regional laws and acting unconstitutionally.


“SADC leaders have unlawfully ensured that the Tribunal – a critical legal institution – can no longer function, leaving citizens without legal remedy at the regional level,” said Nicole Fritz, Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. “Instead of abiding by SADC laws, our leaders have willingly and unanimously violated them – and violated our right to access justice as well.”


According to the legal opinion, SADC leaders have acted unlawfully by effectively suspending the Tribunal – by making sure that it is not properly constituted and so cannot operate. SADC laws require that the Tribunal be comprised of no fewer than ten judges but the leaders have violated these laws – by failing to renew the terms of those judges eligible for reappointment or to appoint new judges to fill any vacancies so that the Tribunal no longer has enough judges to hear new cases.


The seven national, regional and international legal organisations that endorsed the opinion also believe that SADC leaders have acted beyond their constitutionally given powers and violated judicial independence and the right to effective legal remedy.


“We are also very concerned that the decision to sabotage the Tribunal was taken in bad faith – to appease Zimbabwe and to ensure that it did not have to comply with a series of rulings related to land seizures,” said Fritz. “Once again, our leaders have shown that they do not take decisions based on what’s good for their people – but what’s best for them and the elites in power across the region.”


However, the legal NGOs argue that SADC’s leaders can remedy the illegality of their recent decisions and resucitate the Tribunal by:


·         Calling for an immediate extraordinary Summit to review and remedy the decisions taken in Windhoek;

·         Renewing the terms of those Tribunal judges eligible for reappointment or appointing sufficient new judges to ensure the proper functioning of the Tribunal;

·         Respecting – in accordance with international law – the independence of the judiciary by upholding the right of Tribunal members to security of tenure and independence; and,

·         Ensuring SADC citizens have access to justice and an effective remedy at regional level.


“Even outside the legal context, the repercussions of this decision are grave”, said Fritz. “SADC asks that its regional integration project be taken seriously and yet at so critical a point in time effectively disbands an institution which is vital to this project.”



List of NGOs:


Southern Africa Litigation Centre, SALC

Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation – Malawi

Ditshwanelo, The Botswana Centre for Human Rights

International Commission of Jurists, ICJ – Africa Regional Office

Legal Assistance Centre, Namibia

Open Society Justice Initiative, OSJI

Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, SERI

Zimbabwe Exiles Forum



For further information, contact:


Nicole Fritz, Director, Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) +27 11 5875000; +27 82 6001028




Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) promotes and advances human rights and the rule of law in southern Africa, primarily through strategic litigation support and capacity building. SALC provides technical and monetary support to local and regional lawyers and organizations in litigating human rights and rule of law cases in the region.  SALC also provides training in human rights and rule of law issues and facilitates networks of human rights lawyers and organizations throughout southern Africa.





Nicole Fritz

Executive Director

Southern Africa Litigation Centre

t: +27 (0) 11 587 5000

f: +27 (0) 11 587 5099


The views expressed in this message are those of the sender in his or her private capacity, except where the sender specifically states them to be the views of Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC). SALC, its subsidiaries and associates are not liable for any claims which may arise as a result of the contents of this e-mail, and do not accept responsibility for the security of the information contained herein, nor for any viruses which may be contained in this e-mail or any attached files. While SALC has taken all reasonable steps to protect its mail from viruses, SALC, its subsidiaries and associates do not accept liability, howsoever arising, for any loss, damage or expense resulting directly or indirectly from this message or any of its attachments.


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