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SADC urged to ‘safeguard’ regional human rights court

SADC urged to ‘safeguard’ regional human rights court

By Alex Bell
18 June 2012

Leading Southern African legal rights groups have called on regional 
governments to safeguard the still suspended SADC Tribunal, and to fully 
reinstate the court with a strengthened human rights mandate.

The court was suspended more than a year ago for a 12 month review, in what 
was described as a serious blow for the rule of law in Southern Africa and 
for the protection of human rights. The suspension was also slammed for 
appearing to side with the Robert Mugabe regime, which was held in contempt 
by that court for ignoring a 2008 ruling on the unlawful land grab campaign.

The review process is now being finalised, with regional justice ministers 
finishing a draft amendment to the Tribunal Protocol, which is set to 
dictate some key changes in the role and functions of the court. These 
recommendations will be handed to the SADC Council of Ministers ahead of a 
SADC summit in Mozambique in August, where it is hoped the court will 
finally be reinstated.

Three top legal groups have since urged the ministers to safeguard the role 
of the Tribunal by agreeing on recommendations that “protect the core 
mandate of the Tribunal and ensure it is finally allowed to function again.

The SADC Lawyers Association, the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) 
and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) made a joint submission to 
the SADC ministers last week, reminding them of their duty to protect the 

SALC’s Lloyd Kuveya told SW Radio Africa on Monday that there are key issues 
that are set to determine the whole region’s future in terms of human rights 
and the rule of law. He explained that these issues, which are feared to 
become recommendations to the Council of Ministers, will drastically change 
the mandate of the Tribunal.

Kuveya explained these changes include blocking access to the court to 
individuals, NGOs and private companies, and also removing the court’s human 
rights mandate.

“We want a Tribunal that is accessible to all and SADC should not diminish 
the human rights jurisdiction of the court. In fact that should strengthen 
this mandate,” Kuveya said.

He added: “If these changes go ahead then SADC leaders will have shown that 
they are only paying lip service to the rule of law, so there are serious 

According to its current mandate the court is meant to provide access to 
legal recourse to all SADC citizens, when the courts in their own countries 
fail them. It is also supposed to be a neutral legal ground for citizens to 
take grievances against their own countries governments.

This was the case for the late former Chegutu farmer Mike Campbell and his 
son-in-law Ben Freeth, who took the Mugabe regime before the court for the 
land grab campaign. The court ruled this campaign was unlawful and ordered 
the government to compensate farmers who lost land and protect the remaining 
farmers from further attack.

None of this happened and the Tribunal repeatedly held the regime in 
contempt for ignoring the 2008 ruling. But instead of protecting the 
jurisdiction of the court, which was enshrined in the SADC Treaty, regional 
leaders chose to suspend it instead.


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