While civil society is still reeling from SADC’s recent decision to strip southern Africa’s regional court, the SADC Tribunal, of the ability to serve the interests of the region’s citizens, the Supreme Court of Appeal, seemingly unperturbed by recent events, confirmed that judgments of the now-defunct Tribunal are enforceable in South Africa. The SCA confirmed that property belonging to the Zimbabwean government may be attached and sold in execution of a cost order handed down by the SADC Tribunal.

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The Southern Africa Litigation Centre, the Africa Regional Programme of the International Commission of Jurists and the SADC Lawyers’ Association co-hosted a regional legal consultative conference on the 28th of July 2012.

The conference focused on a wide range of topics pertaining to the SADC Tribunal review process and the role of stakeholders in working towards a strengthened sub-regional court. At the conclusion of the meeting a declaration was adopted and 25 advocacy actions were recommended by the participants. The meeting was attended by judges, lawyers and NGO representatives from the SADC region. 

The main objective of the meeting was to analyse the SADC decision on the SADC Tribunal, its implications on fundamental human rights, the rule of law and democracy as well as mapping out strategies for NGOs, lawyers and judges to contribute to the review process. The meeting was designed to raise greater awareness on the recent developments of the review process, and provide an opportunity for better coordination of the efforts of SADC lawyers, judges and rule of law advocates in advocating for a strengthened, effective and independent SADC Tribunal. 

Some of the key topics discussed at the meeting included a critique of the contentious issues to be considered in the review process, an overview of civil society and bar associations’ engagement in the review process, the effects of the SADC decision on the rule of law and human rights in the SADC region and a discussion on strategies for effective advocacy.

It was generally agreed that the SADC decision to suspend the operations of the SADC Tribunal until August 2012 was illegal and that the Summit did not act on the basis of provisions of the Tribunal’s constitutive documents.

Participants agreed to challenge the illegality of the SADC Summit decision through various advocacy strategies which include approaching the African Court for an advisory opinion and engaging the individual SADC Heads of State and Ministers of Justice.

Check out an interesting article from Business Day on the suspension of the SADC Tribunal.

It is hardly surprsing that the Zimbabwean government, or more correctly, one half of that government, is attacking the SADC Tribunal. After all the SADC Tribunal has ruled against Zimbabwe on its land policies. As the legal opinion of Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Patrick Chinamasa, was issued, several of the parties who had approached the SADC Tribunal seeking a vindictaion of their rights had their farms burnt down.

Seemingly, Zimbabwe would burn down the Tribunal too and the entire legal architecture that SADC has established. Its challenge has repurcussions not only for Zimbabwean victims who would seek to have their rights vindicated befor the Tribunal but for all those in the region who would do so. Zimbabwe alleges that the Tribunal was established in violation of international law and accordingly has no jurisdiction in respect fo any matter.

As SALC argues in this opinion those arguments have no merit.

The 29th Ordinary SADC Summit is to take place next week in Kinshasha, DRC. Zimbabwe is again likely to be on the agenda. With reports of an upsurge in political violence in Zimbabwe, SADC leaders, taking their obligation to promote peace and security in the region seriously, should be looking to devise a system by which such acts can be systematically addressed, condemned and countered.

Of course, doing so would require them to look comprehensively at the pattern of violence which has played out over recent years, specifically in the aftermath of the March elections of 2008, and key to such an assessment would be consideration of the Generals Report on post-election violence commissioned by then president Mbeki in his role as SADC-appointed facilitator of political dialogue in Zimbabwe.
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