Sadc leaders restricting access to justice: Gutu

HARARE - Leaders of the 14-nation regional grouping Sadc want the bloc’s Tribunal to be a useless court that does not grant individuals access to appeal against their governments, a Zimbabwean minister has said.

Deputy minister of Justice and Legal Affairs Obert Gutu told a Sadc regional colloquium in Johannesburg this week that the decision by Sadc leaders at the 32nd heads of State and government summit held in Mozambique last August to consider reopening the regional court of appeal with limited jurisdiction will deny millions of Sadc citizens access to justice.

The Namibia-based court was suspended in 2010 after ruling against President Robert Mugabe’s land seizures.

Sadc leaders that met in Maputo last year maintained the suspension of the court amid reports Zimbabwe insisted that the court’s powers be further whittled down, its ability to adjudicate in human rights matters be destroyed and that it should bar individual access.

“This decision has reduced the Tribunal into a mere interstate court which cannot be accessed by individual persons, both natural and juristic,” Gutu said. He said the court was supposed to be a regional judicial institution that administers justice to the people of Sadc.

A communique issued at the end of the Maputo Sadc summit, a new protocol on the Tribunal should be negotiated and that “its mandate should be confined to interpretation of the Sadc treaty and protocols relating to disputes between member States.”

Gutu said: “The option of an interstate court which is preferred by our heads of State is in reality a nullity because I cannot imagine any one of our States taking the other to the Tribunal.

“This leaves us with a rather awkward state of affairs where the very tenets of rule of law and human rights that the Sadc Tribunal is intended to uphold are circumscribed without any meaningful justification. This is because the same decision appears to be nothing more than a deliberate move to restrict access to justice.”

The Tribunal in 2008 ruled in favour of 78 white farmers fighting against the seizure of their land by Mugabe’s government, and ordered Zimbabwe to uphold the Tribunal’s order to return confiscated land and compensate farmers for lost property.

Zimbabwe’s government refused to comply with the Sadc Tribunal’s ruling and challenged the regional court’s decision.

Zimbabwe’s courts flatly declined to register the Tribunal’s decision, saying it violates the country’s Constitution.

The last Maputo summit was the second year the Sadc summit has failed to revive the Tribunal after Harare raised objections.

“The past few years have witnessed the summit of the Sadc heads of State and government taking two gigantic steps backwards: first in the form of the decision to suspend the Tribunal pending a review of its role, responsibilities and terms of reference and as I mentioned earlier by deciding to make the Tribunal an interstate court,” Gutu said. - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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