African leaders ‘killed off’ court

2011-07-16 15:35

Southern Africa’s heads of state deliberately “killed off” Africa’s only working international court because “they did not like to be held legally accountable”.

So says the former president of the Windhoek-based SADC Tribunal, Judge ­Ariranga Pillay of Mauritius.

In an unprecedented ­attack on the body’s decision in May this year to scupper the SADC tribunal by not ­reappointing or replacing its judges or allowing it to ­proceed with pending or new cases, Pillay accused SADC leaders of “acting like high-handed, imperious kings who could do no wrong”.

Addressing a Freedom Under Law event this week, Pillay said the decision to scupper the court “came like a bolt out of the blue”.

The tribunal – founded in terms of the SADC treaty and protocols – tried high-profile cases, including those of 70 mainly white Zimbabwean farmers who lost their land to invaders sanctioned by the Mugabe government.

Two years ago the tribunal found in favour of the ­farmers and declared the Zimbabwean land-grab ­programme illegal.

The tribunal ordered the Zimbabwean government to either return the farms to their original owners or to compensate them for their loss and, in many cases, for serious physical injury and even murder in attacks by ­invaders.

Mugabe’s regime ignored the court order.

A full bench of the tribunal again instructed the government to comply.

Mugabe’s legal team ­responded by ­denying the tribunal’s jurisdiction over Zimbabwe’s sovereignty.

In May, the tribunal was ­effectively suspended.

Mugabe was the main ­driver of that political decision by the SADC, which Pillay said was illegal.

He accused the SADC heads of state of “paying ­lip service to human rights and the rule of law”.

“They (the SADC leaders) suddenly realised what they had let themselves in for. It became clear to them that the SADC treaty included ­judiciable and enforceable concepts of human rights and the rule of law.

“They became scared of the tribunal’s jurisdiction,” he said.

“They do not seem to ­realise that human rights are there for the benefit of the public, not just for politicians.”

– Africa and International Desk 

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