Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Top African court urged to tackle SADC breach of human rights

Top African court urged to tackle SADC breach of human rights

By Alex Bell
16 February 2012

Two dispossessed farmers in Zimbabwe are set to take their case against the 
Southern African Development Community (SADC) to Africa’s top human rights 
body, after the suspension of the regional rights court last year.

All 15 SADC leaders have been cited as respondents in the landmark legal 
case, launched by farmers Luke Tembani and Ben Freeth, in place of his late 
father-in-law Mike Campbell. The application was originally made to the SADC 
Tribunal last year and is the first time in legal history that a group of 
heads of state is being cited by an individual as the respondent in an 
application to an international court.

The application to SADC was the last legal challenge that Campbell would 
make, after spearheading an historic legal battle in the Tribunal against 
Robert Mugabe and his land grab campaign. The Tribunal ruled in 2008 that 
the land grab scheme was unlawful, and ordered Mugabe’s government to 
compensate farmers who lost land, and protect the remaining farmers from 
future illegal seizures. That year, just months before the Tribunal ruled in 
his favour, Campbell, his wife and Freeth were abducted and severely beaten. 
Their homes were then burned down in 2009 and Campbell eventually died in 
April last year, as a result of the serious injuries he had received.

The Mugabe regime meanwhile ignored the Tribunal’s rulings and was 
repeatedly held in contempt because of ongoing land seizures and threats 
against the remaining commercial farming community. But the biggest shock 
was yet to come when SADC leaders last year suspended the court, instead of 
taking Mugabe to task.

Freeth and Tembani, who was evicted from his farm in 2009, are now taking 
their case against SADC leaders to the African Commission on Human and 
People’s Rights, in the hope the case will be handed to the Commission’s 
human rights court.

Freeth told SW Radio Africa on Thursday that the Commission is meeting in 
The Gambia next week, where their challenge is set to be debated. He 
explained that if the Commission agrees, the case will then be handed to the 
African Court on Human and People’s Rights. The Court forms part of the 
Commission’s protective mandate, in that it makes final and binding 
decisions on human rights violations. However, only twenty six African 
states have ratified the Protocol that established the court, and this does 
not include Zimbabwe.

“What SADC leaders did in closing the Tribunal was a breach of international 
law and a breach of the SADC Treaty, and, essentially, a breach of human 
rights. We have seen in Zimbabwe how, when the rule of law fails, everything 
fails and this does not bode well for Southern Africa,” Freeth explained.

He added: “We are not just making this challenge as individuals or even just 
on behalf of farmers. We are representing all Southern African citizens 
whose human rights have been infringed by the closure of the Tribunal.”

The Commission will be gathering in The Gambia for its 11th Extra Ordinary 
session from next Tuesday.


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