SADC Tribunal downgraded
THE Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal has been downgraded to an administrative panel, effectively taking away its prior role of protecting human rights and adjudicating in disputes between and within member states.
SADC’s 35th summit of heads of State and governments held in Botswana mid last month is said to have diminished its status which had, since 2010, been a serious bone of contention between member states following its several judgements against the Zimbabwean government.
The Tribunal, established in 2015, in Gaborone — the capital city of Botswana — came into being to ensure adherence by member states to, and proper interpretation of the provisions of the SADC Treaty and subsidiary instruments, as well as adjudicating upon disputes referred to it.
The SADC Tribunal Rights Watch is one of the many organisations that are fuming over the lesser role that the regional court of appeal has been relegated to.
The human rights watchdog believes the move has effectively denied 258 million SADC citizens access to the court, which is a violation of international standards of democracy and rule of law.
“Under international law, the Tribunal was considered an international court just like the European Court of Justice or the East African Court of Justice. It was created to consider disputes between member states, individuals, organisations or institutions, staff of the SADC secretariat and the community and SADC.
“Instead of building on the achievements of the internationally respected SADC Tribunal, which comprised leading judges from across the region, the SADC leaders have approved the resolution to establish the Southern African Development Community Administrative Tribunal (SADCAT).
“Regrettably, the mandate of the SADCAT will be confined to interpretation of the SADC Treaty and Protocols relating to disputes between member states, thus barring individuals and legal persons access to justice when SADC citizens have exhausted all legal remedies within their own countries,” charged the SADC Tribunal Rights Watch, in a statement.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has weighed in and pointed out that SADC member states have done little to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law, despite identifying peace, security, and the protection of human rights as key concerns within the region.
“Respect for human rights and the rule of law can bring peace and stability and help drive the regional economic development that improves people’s lives,” said HRW.
Zimbabwe’s legal watchdog, Veritas, also expressed concern at the apparent death of the Tribunal saying the SADC communiqué issued after the summit made “no reference to the resurrection of the SADC Tribunal – or what is to be done about the cases before the Tribunal that had not been completed when it ceased to function”.
“The position remains as it was after the August 2014 Victoria Falls Summit, which adopted a new Protocol eliminating the Tribunal’s original jurisdiction to hear cases brought by individual citizens against their governments. This new Protocol on the Tribunal is not yet in force and unlikely to come into force any time soon. Only nine member states signed it at last year’s summit, and not one of them has taken the further step of ratifying it. Even Zimbabwe, the prime instigator of the dismantling of the Tribunal as originally constituted, has not ratified the new protocol. At least two-thirds of the SADC member states must ratify it to bring it into force,” said Veritas.