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Regional cooperation

SADC Tribunal degraded

by Laura Hinze

In brief

In South Africa, Zimbabwen migrants protested against election-related violence in their home country in 2008

In South Africa, Zimbabwen migrants protested against election-related violence in their home country in 2008

In the future, the judicial body of the South African Development Community (SADC) will no longer have jurisdiction over human rights. The court has not been operational for two years. By Laura Hinze

At their summit in Maputo in August, the political leaders of the regional organisation decided to change the mandate of the SADC Tribunal. They only want it to handle disputes between countries. Originally, the SADC Tribunal was designed to accept human rights cases when people felt abused by their government and had no hope for redress in their home country.

The court’s work was actually thwarted two years ago. The Tribunal had ruled against Zimbabwe several times because of human rights abuses by the gov­ernment of President Robert Mugabe through the “fast track” land expropriation (please note comment on p. 350). In August, the SADC summit decided to terminate the tenure of four judges, including the Tribunal’s President Ariranga Pillay. In a protest letter published last year, the justices argue that the decision was illegal and arbitrary. According to Pillay, the SADC can change the mandate of the Tribunal, but it cannot tell the judges not to accept cases.

Henning Melber, the director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala and a member of Namibia’s independence movement SWAPO since 1974, is critical of the summit decision. “Once more,” he says, “the rule of law is subordinated to the law of rulers.” In his view, the SADC leaders proved that their good governance rhetoric only serves cos­metic purposes. “Their own interests matter more to them than the people they pretend to represent and protect.” Melber says that the SADC’s international credibility will suffer because of the summit’s decision.

Ahead of the event, several civil so­ciety organisations had organised a campaign with the slogan “Save the SADC Tribunal”. Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize lau­reate, was a prominent supporter. The campaign’s goal was to reinstate the Tribunal and ensure that it continued to hear human rights cases.

Laura Hinze