The SADC Tribunal: Concerted efforts for waves of change we want to see

Patricia_MwanyisaAuthor: Patricia Mwanyisa
Human Rights, Justice and Rule of Law Programme Officer, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)

Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is known for its spectacular and majestic water falls. In August last year it was not just water that was falling at Victoria Falls but the SADC Tribunal as we know it fell spectacularly as leaders from the Southern African Development Community approved a new protocol to reconstitute the SADC Tribunal. The new tribunal has a limited mandate. By adopting a new protocol, the leaders effectively buried the SADC Tribunal which used to operate under the 2000 protocol. They decided to ignore recommendations from their own legal advisors and attorney generals and created a new Tribunal whose mandate is limited only to the adjudication of inter-state disputes. Simply put, under the 2014 Protocol, citizens are deprived of their right to refer a dispute between themselves and their government to the SADC Tribunal. Without a tribunal, justice and redress will remain elusive for people of the region.

It is important to remember that central to the demise of the tribunal is the case of Mike Campbell and Others v Zimbabwe (Campbell Case) in which the Tribunal found in favor of Zimbabwean white farmers whose land had been compulsorily acquired and without compensation by the Zimbabwean government. In retaliation Zimbabwe strategically attacked the jurisdiction and operation of the tribunal, mobilized support for its suspension and ultimately, its eventual disbandment. By succumbing to the demands of Zimbabwe, SADC Heads of state have ultimately eliminated the access of individuals and groups to the Tribunal at the behest of one State [Zimbabwe] and consequently depriving the entire region of the benefits of such an important institution. Discussions and decisions on the utility of the Tribunal should rather surpass the opinion of one State’s argument based on just one case and personal short term gains. Even so, Zimbabweans themselves and particularly politicians and elected MPs who represent the people of that country must objectively review the wisdom in taking such a stance – more so at a time when Zimbabwe chairs the SADC bloc. They must never forget that they too are ordinary individuals who also depend on fair, transparent and accessible judicial mechanisms which they may need at some point in their lives regardless of their political affiliations. That is, at any given time the tide turns, politicians whether in opposition or in power are susceptible to becoming victims of State sanctioned attacks on the dignity of individuals, including political violence.

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