SADC heads of state have been accused of acting unconstitutionally by effectively suspending the work of the SADC Tribunal.
The Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) in Johannesburg says the SADC heads of state during their annual August meeting in Windhoek “have effectively sabotaged the SADC Tribunal and undermined the right of citizen to access justice”.
In a report released this week, SALC called for an immediate SADC extraordinary summit to review and remedy the decision. Namibia took over the rotating chairmanship of SADC at the August summit.
Nicole Fritz, director of SALC, said the decision to “sabotage” the Tribunal was taken in bad faith to appease Zimbabwe and to ensure that it did not have to comply with a series of Tribunal rulings related to land seizures in that country.
“Once again, our leaders have shown that they do not take decisions based on what is good for their people, but what is best for them and the elites in power across the region,” the legal opinion compiled by SALC lawyers and supported by regional non-governmental organisations said.
Namibia’s Legal Assistance Centre is also a signatory to the report.
Fritz said the decision to suspend the work of the body goes against the grain of SADC’s stated regional integration project.
“SADC asks that its regional integration project be taken seriously and yet at so critical a point in time effectively disbands an institution which is vital to this project,” Fritz said.
At its August summit, SADC leaders decided that “a review of the role, functions and terms of reference of the Tribunal should be undertaken and concluded within six months”.
SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salomao told the media after the summit that a study on the role of the Tribunal would be commissioned and that an extraordinary summit on the body would be held in due course.
Fritz said the Windhoek-based Tribunal only has four of ten appointed judges left in office and as a result no case can be heard.
According to her, the Tribunal was told by Salomoa not to accept any new cases.
“As such the regional body is virtually suspended,” Fritz said.
The SALC report recommends that the terms of those Tribunal judges eligible for reappointment be renewed or sufficient new judges be appointed to ensure the proper functioning of the body.
A recent report by a regional newspaper that a Swiss consulting firm specialising in trade issues would carry out the review of the Tribunal also ruffled feathers in the region.
SALC’s Fritz said: “The regional court is a legal body and legal expertise would be required in this case.”
Namibia’s Deputy Minister of Justice Tommy Nambahu said he was aware “that the newspaper report caused some unhappiness”.
The acting Registrar of the SADC Tribunal in Windhoek said he was not at liberty to comment about the selection of the consulting firm and referred The Namibian to the Registrar, who was out of town this week.