THE African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has made a preliminary ruling that it will hear a complaint about the effective suspension of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal.
In a statement yesterday, campaigners for the tribunal, SADC Tribunal Rights Watch, said it was “unprecedented” for the African Commission to be considering a human rights matter on the actions of 14 countries.
The SADC Tribunal hears cases between citizens of SADC countries and their governments, when the citizens have exhausted all domestic legal avenues.
The decision last year by the SADC summit — made up of the heads of state of SADC — to put a moratorium on the tribunal’s work was widely condemned.
Critics said the summit had bowed to pressure from Zimbabwe, after it refused to enforce a number of the tribunal’s orders relating to unlawful land expropriations.
Two farmers from Zimbabwe, Luke Tembani and Ben Freeth, then approached the African Commission. They said that they had “nowhere else to turn”.
Last week, Mr Tembani’s attorneys received a letter from the commission’s secretary, Mary Maboreke, saying that the commission had “considered your complaint and decided to hear it”. She said “the matter had been registered and referenced”.
By approaching the African Commission, Mr Tembani and Mr Freeth are hoping to get their foot in the door of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights — whose order would, in international law, bind all the SADC countries that are party to the litigation.
Mr Tembani and Mr Freeth cannot approach the court directly.
In his affidavit, Mr Tembani said that he had been deprived of his title to his farm, something the tribunal had already held to be unlawful, but which the Zimbabwean government had defied.
He said he, other Zimbabwean farmers, and “our workers and our families have been forced off our land and forced to live in appalling conditions in urban settlements. I myself have recently lost a young child in these conditions.”
Mr Tembani and Mr Freeth want the African Commission to refer their communication to the African Court of Justice so it can order the SADC summit and its member states to lift, “with immediate effect”, the suspension of the tribunal; to reappoint the tribunal’s judges and to give the tribunal the funding it needs to get on with its work.