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Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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SADC Tribunal future uncertain

SADC Tribunal future uncertain

By Alex Bell
17 May 2011

The future of the regional human rights court remains uncertain, amid 
reports that Justice Ministers from across Southern Africa have agreed that 
the court’s decisions are null and void.

A Summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is set to get 
underway in Namibia on Friday, where it is hoped that the future of the 
human rights Tribunal will be decided. The court was effectively suspended 
over Zimbabwe’s refusal to honour its 2008 ruling that Robert Mugabe’s land 
grab campaign was unlawful. . The court ordered the then ZANU PF government 
to protect farmers from further attack, but Robert Mugabe and his party have 
repeatedly snubbed the court.

The government has argued that the Tribunal was not properly constituted and 
therefore has no jurisdiction in Zimbabwe, despite Zimbabwe being a 
signatory to the SADC Treaty that established the court. Controversially, a 
SADC summit last year decided to review the role and functions of the court, 
rather than be forced into taking action against the Zim government for its 

That review has since been concluded, and has upheld the court’s decision 
and has further stated that the Tribunal was properly constituted. The 
report was presented to a SADC Council of Ministers meeting last month, who 
were said to have endorsed it.

But according to Zimbabwe’s state media the Ministers reportedly agreed that 
the Tribunal’s rulings were null and void. Zimbabwe’s Justice Minister and 
ZANU PF top dog, Patrick Chinamasa has in recent days insisted that this is 
the position the Council of Ministers have adopted, ahead of the SADC Summit 
this week.

Nicole Fritz, the Director of the Southern African Litigation Centre, told 
SW Radio Africa’s Diaspora Diaries series on Tuesday that credible reports 
and sources show that the Council has endorsed the independent report. She 
explained that the recent reports suggesting otherwise have only come from 
one source, and are at odds with what is being reported elsewhere.

“What is worrying and of concern is that Zimbabwe may use the upcoming SADC 
Summit to try and manipulate events and alter the determination of the 
Council of Ministers,” Fritz said.

Fritz added: “We hope that the SADC leadership will keep the long term 
interests of the region at heart when it makes a decision on the Tribunal. 
Decapitating the court at this point will be a critical blow to the region.”

Ben Freeth, from the SADC Tribunal Rights Watch group, meanwhile told SW 
Radio Africa that it appears that the fate of the Tribunal will rest on 
whatever decision the SADC leadership decides to take on Zimbabwe. The 
regional bloc is meant to be endorsing a roadmap towards a credible election 
in Zimbabwe, to end the political crisis.

However there is doubt that South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, who is the regional 
mediator in the crisis, will attend the Summit, meaning Zimbabwe will not be 
on the agenda. It is understood that Zuma will either be in his own country, 
where municipal elections will be taking place, or in India. Sources have 
said that the Zim issue will be postponed to a later meeting in Johannesburg 
in June.

Freeth said that SADC will likely delay making a decision on the Tribunal 
too, while the Zimbabwe issue remains unresolved. But he explained that the 
Tribunal would be a critical tool for SADC if it remains committed to 
democratic change in Zimbabwe.

“A fully functioning Tribunal would work in SADC’s favour, because they can 
use the court to enforce the rule of law in Zimbabwe,” Freeth said.


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