Coalition for SADC T statement

Reinstate SADC Tribunal, watchdogs urge African leaders

Nyasa Times

15 August 2015

Vocal Malawi human rights watchdog Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation and other international organisations have renewed their call in defence of the SADC Tribunal by urging SADC heads of state convening in Botswana for the 35th Summit to consider reinstating the SADC Tribunal.

On 18 August 2012, the Summit of Heads of State and government suspended the work of the Tribunal indefinitely and resolved that a new Protocol on the Tribunal should be negotiated and that its mandate should be confined to inter-state disputes.

During the 34th SADC Summit held on 18 August 2014 in Zimbabwe, SADC heads of state adopted a new Protocol on the SADC Tribunal, which inter alia, bars individuals from accessing the court.

Article 33 [of the new Protocol] provides that “The Tribunal shall have jurisdiction on the interpretation of the SADC Treaty and Protocols relating to disputes between member states, effectively limiting access to the Tribunal to states only.”

The Protocol is, however, not yet in force as only 9 of the 15 member states have signed it, and that new Protocol will only enter into force after two-thirds of members’ states have ratified.

In a statement issued by the Coalition for an Effective SADC Tribunal on 14 August 2015 in Gaborone, Botswana on the sidelines of the SADC heads of state meeting scheduled for Sunday, the groups call on heads of state to uphold the rule of law and human rights in the region by reinstating the SADC Tribunal.

“In August 2014, contrary to the SADC Treaty of which Article 23 provides that decisions concerning the community and any affected persons or citizens must be made in consultation with them, the SADC heads of state adopted a new Protocol on the SADC Tribunal, without any consultation.  The SADC did not act in accordance with its own Treaty’s amendment procedures.  As such, the suspension lacks legality, ‘inter alia’ because the SADC Treaty does not allow for suspension.

“The disbandment of the old Tribunal and the adoption of the new Protocol effectively disregards the independence of the judiciary, separation of powers and the rule of law.  It also impacts negatively on human rights and business confidence across the region,” reads the statement, signed by Coalition partners which include Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), SADC Lawyers’ Association (SADCLA) and others.

The statement, according to Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation advocacy coordinator, Makhumbo Munthali, was a product of the Coalition’s SADC Summit parallel event held in Gaborone, Botswana, under the theme, “The SADC Tribunal:  Debunking the myths and its relevance to all in Southern Africa”.

Speaking to the Nyasa Times from Gaborone, Munthali said members of the coalition were of the view that the adopted new Protocol removes access to the Tribunal by individuals and legal persons, and hence removes its human rights mandate.

“We strongly hold that once operational, the new Protocol will deprive people of SADC access to the SADC Tribunal, which contradicts a global trend including experience with other African-sub regional courts and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights.

“Besides, the process of abolishing the defunct Tribunal and subsequent negotiation and adoption of the new Protocol lacked transparency and excluded the citizen’s voice contrary to the letter and spirit of the SADC Treaty, which commits to ensure maximum involvement of the people and the key stakeholders in the process of regional integration.  Our leaders should not worship impunity but rather embrace the rule of law which is a basic feature of a democratic society,” said Munthali.

The statement implored SADC heads of state to consider the merits of the SADC Tribunal in its original form and the positive impact it will have in the region.

“The reinstatement would provide legal recourse to people seeking justice once they have exhausted existing legal remedies at the national level.”

Other signatories to the statement include SADC Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (CNGO), NGO Policy Forum (Tanzania), Council of Churches (Swaziland), Centre for Mozambican and International Studies (CEMO), Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA), Transformation Resource Centre (Lesotho), Association of Justice, Peace and Democracy (Angola), Tanganyika Law Society, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Citizens Engagement Platform Seychelles (CEPS), and African Centre for Justice Innovation.

To view the statement issued by the Coalition for an Effective SADC Tribunal:

Call to action:

To support the petition to reinstate the SADC Tribunal at the link: