Legal bodies unite to save SADC Tribunal

By Richard Lee | August 04th, 2011
SADC Tribunal headquarters
SADC Tribunal headquarters

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 last week to discuss attempts by the region's leaders to destroy the SADC Tribunal - and what could be done to save it.

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 draft 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.

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