SALC said the regional leaders had dealt a potentially-fatal blow to the rule of law in the region by suspending the work of the SADC Tribunal for another year. “By sabotaging the Tribunal, SADC leaders have shown exactly where their loyalties lie – in protecting their friend, President Mugabe, from the consequences of his regime’s illegal activities rather than defending the rights of SADC’s 200 million citizens,” Nicole Fritz, Director of the SALC, said in a statement.
SADC Heads of State and Government took the decision to suspend the work of the Tribunal at an Extraordinary Summit in Windhoek on Friday.
The summit was expected to be the culmination of an already-drawn out process that began in August last year, when the leaders called for a review of the role, functions and terms of reference of the Tribunal.
This was occasioned by Zimbabwe’s attack on the Tribunal, which had ruled against Zimbabwe President Mugabe’s government in a series of cases dealing with land disputes.
SALC said by bowing to further pressure from Zimbabwe, the region’s rulers have now given their Ministers of Justice and Attorney Generals another 12 months to review it all over again – during which time the moribund Tribunal will hear no new cases.
“It is clear that SADC leaders have no respect for their own regional court or international legal norms and feel that they can violate the Tribunal’s independence, the rule of law and the right of southern Africans to access justice with total impunity,” said Fritz. “Instead of sanctioning Zimbabwe, our leaders have imposed legal sanctions on all of us – preventing us from seeking legitimate legal redress at a regional level.”
According to SALC, SADC leaders suspended the Tribunal until May 2012 despite the recommendations of an independent SADC-commissioned report compiled by the Geneva-based World Trade Institute Advisers, which analysed the form and function of the Tribunal and found that, among other things, it was legally constituted, its decisions should be binding and enforceable in all member states, it had the authority to deal with individual human rights petitions, and sufficient judges should be appointed urgently so that it could resume its work.
SALC said the summit also ignored an earlier petition signed by SALC and 18 other organisations – including the SADC Lawyers Association, the East Africa Law Society and the Pan-African Lawyers Union – expressing their concern about the future of the Tribunal and urging states to take measures to strengthen the court rather than sabotage it.
By suspending the Tribunal, SALC said SADC is setting itself at odds with the other regional economic communities in Africa.
Both the Economic Community of West African States and the East Africa Community recognise that regional courts are critical to protecting human rights and encouraging economic growth.