Chinamasa pulls Zim out of SADC tribunal without cabinet approval

The Windhoek based court has passed judgements barring the continued seizure of their farms under government’s land reform programme.

But Zimbabwe, which remains a member of SADC, says it will no longer be bound by any of the court’s judgements – past and future.

Since 2000, Zimbabwe has embarked on a controversial land reform programme that has almost decimated agriculture, the country’s prime source of foreign currency.

The Herald reports that the rogue Justice and Legal Affairs Minister, Patrick Chinamasa has written to the Tribunal declaring Zimbabwe was not going to appear before it anymore, amid reports that the Minister’s actions have not been deliberated by the coalition’s cabinet.

Chinamasa, one of Zimbabwe’s most avid defenders of President Robert Mugabe’s controversial rule, says the court was not sanctioned by two thirds of the block’s member States as is prescribed in the rules and procedures governing the regional grouping.

This followed a meeting of Sadc Justice Ministers and Attorneys-General in South Africa from July 27 to August 3 this year that proved the Protocol on the Tribunal and rules of providing for the composition and powers governing the court had not yet been ratified by two-thirds of Sadc members.

"The purported application of the provisions of the Protocol on Zimbabwe is a serious violation of international law,” Chinamasa wrote in a letter dated August 7, 2009, and delivered to the registrar of the Tribunal on August 10.

"There was never any basis upon which the Tribunal could seek or purport to found jurisdiction on Zimbabwe based on the Protocol which has not yet been ratified by two-thirds of the total membership of Sadc.

"As we are unaware of any other basis upon which the Tribunal can exercise jurisdiction over Zimbabwe, we hereby advise that, henceforth, we will not appear before the Tribunal and neither will we respond to any action or suit instituted or be pending against the Republic of Zimbabwe before the Tribunal.

"For the same reasons, any decisions that the Tribunal may have or may make in future against the Republic of Zimbabwe are null and void.

"We note that the meeting of the Ministers of Justice/Attorneys-General recommended that the (2009 DRC Sadc) Summit should urge member-states to ratify those protocols which are not yet in force. We look forward to this exercise which will no doubt create an opportunity for Sadc to regularise the composition of the Tribunal."

It has emerged that out of the 14 member states that form SADC, nine are yet to ratify both the Protocol creating the Tribunal and a subsequent amendment to the document.

The largely white commercial farmers, who had failed to obtain any favourable judgement from local courts due to intense political interference by President Mugabe’s government, approached the Tribunal in 2007 for an interim relief barring the acquisations.

Hopes to stop the compulsory acquisition of their land by government were rekindled after the Tribunal in November last year finally passed a ruling barring the Zimbabwean government from further acquiring their land.

In its ruling, the Tribunal odered the Zimbabwean government to compensate farmers who have lost their land since the beginning of the land reform programme in 2000.

Government refused to abide by the ruling saying the ruling interfered with its domestic laws which call for the compulsory take over of the farms under the land reform programme.

The farmers went back to the Tribunal early this year to obtain a final relief order barring the acquisitions.

Land reform, which government says is successful, has seen nearly 80 percent of the country’s prime land, formerly occupied by white Zimbabweans, being transferred into the hands of black Zimbabweans, the majority supporters of Zanu PF.

But the takeover of farms continues to date with influential government officials and  powerful army chiefs leading a fresh wave of farm disruptions which threatens the remaining 400 commercial farmers who have braved continued abuses by government.

The continued farm disruptions have become a source of discord in the current inclusive government which brought together former archrivals.

Zanu PF and the Movement for Democratic Change parties led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

The decision to withdraw from the Tribunal by Zimbabwe could be calculated to dodge censure from SADC countries by government for failure to abide by the judgements of a court which it helped form.

The leaders are meeting for their summit in Kinshasa next week. (Additional reporting with RadioVOP)