Pressure mounts over Sadc Tribunal ahead of Maputo summit

Wongai Zhangazha

PRESSURE is mounting on Sadc leaders to reinstate the original mandate of the Sadc Tribunal as Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, have joined in the international campaign to protect ordinary people from state-sponsored violence, particularly in Zimbabwe.

 
The issue of the Sadc Tribunal, which was the only court in the region where people could take their cases after local courts had failed to satisfy them, will be discussed at the Sadc summit in Maputo, Mozambique, on Friday.

 
The court was suspended by Sadc justice ministers last year following pressure from the Zimbabwe government which opposed the tribunal said aspects of the country’s land reform were illegal and racist, thus ruling in favour of 78 evicted white farmers.

 
In a 10-minute video available on YouTube, Tutu outlines the history of the tribunal and explains its vital role when governments fail to deliver justice and are not held to account.
According to the Sadc Tribunal Watch, Tutu, in support of the campaign, said without the tribunal the region would lose a vital ally of its citizens, investors and future development, and victims of state-sponsored human rights abuses — notably in Zimbabwe, which opposed the structure — would have nowhere to turn to.

 
“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,” Tutu says in the video.

 
“What happened in Zimbabwe could happen elsewhere in the Sadc region.”

 
The “Save the Sadc Tribunal” campaign petition was launched this week by the Botswana Civil Society Solidarity Coalition for Zimbabwe.

 
The campaign also has the support of Sentamu, formerly Archbishop of Uganda, who was briefly detained for speaking out against the late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

 
“It is now time for all communities and organisations within the southern African region to stand together as one to petition their heads of state (of Sadc member states) to reinstate and strengthen the mandate of the Sadc Tribunal regional court,” Sentamu said.

 
“The Sadc states stood together successfully to defeat apartheid in South Africa.

 
“They must now stand together to stop human rights abuses and bring an end to government-sponsored violence within member states which has led to deaths, shocking injuries and mass-scale displacements.”

 
Last week regional civil society organisations met in Maputo ahead of the summit lobbying the Sadc Tribunal to keep its human rights mandate. The organisations raised fears that Sadc leaders may decide to strip the tribunal of its rights jurisdiction, striking “a serious blow to citizens of the region and to hopes for economic growth and development”.

 

 
The Sadc tribunal was set up as an independent legal body to ensure every country within Sadc respected and conformed to the principles and objectives enshrined in the Sadc Treaty of 1992. Zimbabwe has not, however, ratified the tribunal.

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