Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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SADC Tribunal review upholds unlawful land grab judgment

SADC Tribunal review upholds unlawful land grab judgement

By Alex Bell
19 April 2011

A controversial review of the role and functions of the regional human 
rights Tribunal has defended the court’s findings in the legal battle 
against land seizures in Zimbabwe.

The Tribunal of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) ruled in 
2008 that Robert Mugabe’s land grab campaign was unlawful, and ordered the 
government to protect farmers from future attack. The landmark case was 
brought to the court by 79 Zimbabwean commercial farmers, who were all 
victims of the campaign that has all but destroyed the country’s 
agricultural sector.

But Mugabe’s regime has repeatedly refused to honour the Tribunal’s rulings, 
despite being a signatory to the Treaty that formed the SADC leadership 
bloc. Instead, the regime has undermined the Tribunal, saying it has no 
jurisdiction in Zimbabwe and its rulings are ‘null and void’. The Zim 
government also argued that the Tribunal was never legally constituted, 
despite being part of the proceedings that formed the court, and even 
nominating one of its own judges for appointment to the court.

For farmers the Zim government’s refusal to abide by the rulings of the 
regional court has meant ongoing harassment by land invaders and many more 
farmers have been forced off their properties since 2008. So, in a desperate 
bid to have the Tribunal legally recognised in Zimbabwe, farmers last year 
took their appeal before SADC leaders at a heads of state Summit in Namibia. 
But, instead of taking action against the Zim government for its contempt of 
the Tribunal, SADC leaders decided to review the court, effectively 
suspending it.

Observers said this was a brazen show of allegiance to Mugabe, who SADC has 
allowed to hold onto power in Zimbabwe by drafting the terms of the unity 
government. The move also prompted numerous warnings that SADC was setting a 
dangerous precedent that could leave SADC residents with no legal recourse 
against their governments.

But the review has since been concluded and has defended the Tribunal’s 
findings. It found that SADC law should be supreme over domestic laws and 
constitutions and concludes that all decisions made by the court should be 
binding and enforceable within all member states. It states that the SADC 
Tribunal has the legal authority to deal with individual human rights 
petitions, that its rulings should be binding over member states and that 
the SADC ruling on the land grab issue “cannot be faulted”

The report and its findings will only be presented to the SADC Heads of 
State at their next session later this year, who will then decide the 
ultimate future of the court.

Nicole Fritz from the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) told SW 
Radio Africa on Tuesday that the findings of the review are welcome, but 
added the battle is not over yet. She expressed hope that SADC leaders will 
fully reinstate the workings of the Tribunal, explaining that any weakening 
of its mandate is a serious threat to the region.

“Alarmingly, there is a possibility that individual access to the court will 
be scrapped and that only interstate disputes will be entertained,” Fritz 
said. “A decision along these lines would deal a fatal blow to the rule of 
law in the region. It puts human rights in jeopardy, as well as future trade 
and investment, and long- term economic growth.”

Fritz added that although the review does not recommend this, it will be up 
to SADC leaders to determine the fate of the court, and they could be swayed 
by “political push back.” But she said it would be “difficult for them to 
make this decision, because there is no legal road they can take.”


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