SADC Makes a Mockery of the Rule of Law

August 20, 2012

The SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government, conluded this weekend in Maputo, Mozambique, has effectively thrown the Tribunal on the rubbish heap, resolving that a new protocol for the Tribunal should be negotiated and “its mandate should be confined to interpretation of the SADC Treaty and Protocols relating to disputes between Member States”. That means no individual access will be permitted and SADC’s inhabitants will be denied justice.

The decision — indicated by a small paragraph at the end of the Summit’s final communiqué — is astounding not only because it so clearly violates the rule of law but because it completely disregards the recommendations of SADC’s own review process and those proposed by the Ministers of Justice and Attorney Generals.

See below a press release issued by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) on the issue.



Johannesburg, 20th August – Leaders of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) took a momentous decision in Maputo over the weekend – to shut the doors of the SADC Tribunal to the region’s citizens, preventing them from seeking justice and undermining the rule of law.

The shocking decision, which was taken at the annual summit of SADC Heads of State and Government in Maputo, 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 Nicole Fritz, Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC). “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.”

The summit’s final communique explains that SADC leaders have “resolved that a new Protocol on the Tribunal should be negotiated and its mandate confined to interpretation of the SADC Treaty and Protocols relating to disputes between Member States.”

The original Tribunal Protocol made it clear that individuals also had access to the court – and all previous cases heard by the Tribunal had been brought by individuals.

“The decision flies in the face of the recommendations of both the SADC-instituted review of the Tribunal and SADC’s own Ministers of Justice and Attorneys General,” said Fritz. “It is also completely at odds with the best practice of other regional institutions and undermines the protection of human rights and hopes for future economic growth and development.”

The SADC Tribunal has been defunct for the past two years after SADC leaders demanded a review of its powers and functions, following a series of cases in which it had ruled against the Zimbabwean government.

Despite a campaign spearheaded by legal bodies, civil society organisations and individuals such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, SADC’s leaders decided not to the revive the Tribunal immediately and to ensure that in future it will be little more than a shell.

“Our leaders have shown their contempt for all of us in southern Africa and for the rule of law,” said Fritz. “Not only did they deny the region’s citizens access to the Tribunal but Member States almost never bring legal cases against each other so the court will be a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.”

For more information, please contact:

Nicole Fritz, SALC Director; Off +27 11 587 5065; Cell +27 82 600 1028

Richard Lee, OSISA Communications Manager; Cell +27 83 2314192;


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