The SADC Council of NGOs seems to have abandoned its push for the reinstatement of the original SADC Tribunal and instead is calling for the establishment of a Regional Court to be modelled on the one in Hague, Netherlands.
In 2014, the NGOs issued an open letter to Ministers of Justice of SADC countries persuading them not to proceed with the revision of the protocol governing the SADC Tribunal in its current state arguing that the decision will shut access to justice for its 277 million citizens.
“Our Leaders refuse to appear before the Court in the Hague but are reluctant to establish a regional justice body to deal with home grown issues. What is wrong with them?” SADC NGO President Lewis Mwape queried.
The SADC Tribunal, which was established under Article 16 of the Treaty of SADC to advance and ensure the rule of law by strengthening the rights of SADC citizens by providing legal redress, was suspended five years ago and will resurrect under a new protocol.
SADC’s decision to fold follows the disbandment of the tribunal at the 32nd SADC Summit in Mozambique in August 2012 and atwo-year review of the protocol on the Tribunal that’s seems to have significantly changed its operations.
SADC adopted the controversial decision following complaints by Zimbabwe over the previous tribunal’s rulings that sought to nullify the revolutionary land reform programme launched by the Government at the turn of the millennium.
During the 34th summit of Heads of states and Government held at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, the NGOs resolved to establisha task team which they said was going to develop counter arguments on the new SADC Tribunal Protocol.
But during the on-going Civil Society Forum being held at the Eva Maria Pastoral Centre in Gaborone, Botswana justified the need for a Regional Court of Justice saying the reinstatement of the SADC Tribunal excluded human rights matters.
“Currently, there is no avenue for recourse for citizens at regional level in the event that they exhaust domestic legal channels in search of justice,” the NGOs said.
They said the Regional Court of Justice will have a similar mandate as a domestic judiciary in which it will not only interpret the constitution but also allow citizens to claim their rights vis-a-vis the state.
- Collins Mtika is reporting for Nyasa Times at SADC summit in Gaberone, Botswana.