Zuma's decision on SADC Tribunal unconstitutional, unlawful and irrational - ConCourt

Former president Jacob Zuma. (Deaan Vivier)
Former president Jacob Zuma. (Deaan Vivier)

The South Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) has welcomed a Constitutional Court judgment confirming a High Court ruling that former president Jacob Zuma's decision to suspend the operations of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal was unconstitutional, unlawful and irrational.

"The president must be at the forefront of protecting and promoting people's rights when conducting affairs at the international level.

"This decision is of great significance in that it is the first step towards the resurrection of the SADC Tribunal in its original form. We encourage other law societies within the SADC to take up similar challenges," SALC executive director, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The case stems from the Zimbabwe land reform programme. The SADC Tribunal was the only forum available to those whose land was expropriated without compensation after Zimbabwe removed its courts' jurisdiction to deal with the matter.

The tribunal found that Zimbabwe had violated the SADC treaty.

READ: Court bid to reinstate SADC Tribunal

Following this, SADC heads of state, including Zuma, decided to take several steps to ensure that the tribunal was stripped of its human rights mandate.

In 2014, Zuma signed a new SADC protocol which removed "the rights of individuals, both in South Africa and the entire SADC region to access the tribunal for legal redress".

Tuesday's ruling in the Constitutional Court directed the president to withdraw his signature from the 2014 protocol.

It also directed that the Presidency pay the applicants' costs, including the costs of two counsel.

Uphold rights

The SALC said it was of the view that the judgment would uphold the rights of individual South African citizens to access the tribunal for legal redress.

"The importance of this decision cannot be overstated; it is precedent setting, not only for South Africa but also as a reference point for governments in the Southern African region," the statement reads.

The legal body has called on the Presidency to comply and take the necessary steps in implementing the judgment.

"We call upon the Presidency to not only comply and take steps to implement the judgment, but to also use this judgment to lobby his SADC counterparts to consider the principles laid down by the Constitutional Court in calling for the reinstatement of the SADC Tribunal," Ramjathan-Keogh concluded.

Attempts to obtain comment from the Presidency were unsuccessful. 

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