SADC Tribunal: The Scales of Justice Removed

August 7, 2012

When we talk about scales being removed — as in scales falling from our eyes, so that we might see more clearly — we’re generally referring to a positive development. But in the context of justice, the removal of scales — justice’s balancing emblem — is a very bad development indeed. And yet that’s exactly what is likely happen with the SADC Tribunal.

The SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government meets in Maputo, Mozambique from 17-18 August 2012. That meeting will decide the fate of the Tribunal. No tribunal currently exists — it has been suspended now for close on two years. The legality of that suspension is itself in question. A meeting of SADC Ministers of Justice and Attorneys General who were tasked by the Summit with reviewing the Tribunal and proposing amendments to its protocol, has proposed that a future Tribunal not have any human rights jurisdiction until such time as a separate protocol on this issue is concluded. That recommendation flows from a similar provision contained in the constitutive instrument for the East African Court of Justice. Unsurprisingly, more than thirteen years after inclusion of that provision East African states have yet to conclude a separate human rights protocol. And there is no reason, certainly given that the SADC Tribunal’s suspension followed close on it declaring its inherent human rights jurisdiction, that Southern African states would do any differently.

This makes the meeting, currently taking place in Maputo, of Southern African civil society groups and titled “The SADC We Want” so critical. The meeting is hosted by the SADC Council of Non-Governmental Organizations (SADC CNGO); the Southern Africa Trade Union Co-ordination Council (SATUCC) and the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa (FOCCISA) and will allow engagement by civil societywith SADC Elders, like former President Chissano of Mozambique, SADC officials such as Executive Secretary Dr Salamao and SADC Parliamentarians. It will be an opportunity for civil society to press for a Tribunal that has inherent human rights juridiction.

Anything less and the Tribunal will be a pale shadow of its former self. It will make a mockery of the concept of justice. SADC leaders will offer their citizens a figure which looks like justice but without its essential machinary — the scales to weigh justice. And they will hope we will be fooled. . .

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