HOPES that the leaders of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) would revive the defunct Sadc Tribunal were dashed at the weekend, after it was announced that a new protocol on the tribunal would be negotiated — with a vastly curtailed jurisdiction.
The Sadc Tribunal was the last avenue of redress for individuals in dispute with their governments and who had exhausted the justice system of their own countries.
But it was effectively suspended in 2010, reportedly after political pressure from Zimbabwe, which had refused to enforce a number of the tribunal’s orders relating to unlawful land expropriations.
Now, according to the communique from the Sadc heads of state who met in Maputo over the weekend, the tribunal will only be able to hear cases between Sadc states, and there is likely to be another long delay before it is up and running again. This is despite a lengthy campaign to revive the tribunal — backed by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in the run-up to the summit.
The new-look tribunal would also go against the recommendations of Sadc’s own ministers of justice and attorneys-general, who had drafted a revised protocol, which would have kept the right of individuals to approach the tribunal but would have reformulated, through a new protocol, the tribunal’s human rights jurisdiction.
The Southern African Litigation Centre called the heads of states’ decision “shocking”, saying it “not only left the tribunal in limbo but also rendered it completely toothless by denying individual access to the court”.
“The decision to deny the region’s inhabitants any access to the tribunal is astounding and entirely without any lawful basis,” said the centre’s director, Nicole Fritz. “Civil society groups were worried that Sadc leaders would conspire to weaken the tribunal but this is far worse than we had feared. Sadc has destroyed it.”
President Jacob Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, said the president was not at the summit when the tribunal was discussed; he had already left to attend to the Marikana tragedy.
Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesman Clayson Monyela said SA’s position on the tribunal was “neither here nor there”. “The final outcome is there. And it is the one that all member states must support.”
The option of going to the African Court of Justice is not open to most citizens of southern Africa. Only Malawi has ratified the protocol that would allow individuals from the region to approach that court.