Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
Despite a regional campaign, leaders of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) conspired to destroy the SADC Tribunal and seriously undermine the rule of law in the region by denying individuals access to the Court. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was part of the campaign to save the Tribunal - and this is why.
"For a brief period of time, there was hope for the innocent victims of government-sponsored terror and police brutality in Zimbabwe. While the government blocked access to justice and the United Nations failed adequately to address the mass human rights violations, southern Africa was building a house of justice, a place where crimes could not go unpunished and victims of injustice could turn with confidence. That house is now in grave danger.
17 August 1992 was a great day for Africa. Borne of the visionary leadership of southern African statesmen, the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, was established.
It gave southern Africa increased credibility as a region, promising socio-economic co-operation, democracy and protection of the rule of law. Today SADC is the most prosperous regional grouping on the continent.
As a part of SADC, the permanent regional court known as the SADC Tribunal was established and inaugurated in Namibia in 2005. It is empowered to adjudicate legal disputes between member states and between companies and governments. Individuals also have the right to bring cases against their governments before the court when all efforts to achieve justice within their own countries have failed.
This individual access to the SADC court constitutes a key legal instrument that has brought hope to victims of the abuse of power in SADC countries such as Swaziland, Malawi, Angola and Zimbabwe. Between 2007 and 2009, the Tribunal adjudicated on about 20 cases.
The majority involved individuals taking the Zimbabwe government to court because of the breakdown of the rule of law and gross human rights abuses. Zimbabwe acted with impunity until the highly respected Tribunal judges - drawn from across the region - stood up to the government and ordered it to stop brutalising its own population. Zimbabwe lost every single case.
After intensive lobbying by the Zimbabwe government, the SADC Heads of State suspended the SADC Tribunal in May 2011 and the judges were effectively dismissed.
If you are a law-abiding Head of State, why are you scared that people might want to go through another adjudicator, unless it is that you fear you are likely to fall foul of the law?
There is now a real danger that due to Zimbabwe’s pressure, the Tribunal will either be shut down permanently or will no longer be allowed to take on cases brought by individuals or companies against their governments. What has happened in Zimbabwe could happen elsewhere in the SADC region.
The future of the SADC Tribunal hangs in the balance. Without it, the region will lose a vital ally of its citizens, its investors and its future.
As an African, I am sad that we should give this image of ourselves that we are basically not in favour of the rule of law. It is up to all of us to ensure that SADC not only reinstates the Tribunal but also strengthens it.
We need the support of SADC citizens, civil society and the wider community to save the SADC Tribunal so that the rule of law, development and human rights are protected throughout our region."ShareThis