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Activists Slam SADC for Muzzling Regional Tribunal

Human rights activists have condemned last weekend’s decision by Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders to shut down the regional body’s Tribunal calling the move "retrogressive."

Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre Nicole Fritz said the "shocking decision not only left the Tribunal in limbo but also rendered it completely toothless by denying individual access to the court."

The regional court was suspended two years ago after SADC leaders demanded a review of its powers and functions following a series of cases in which it had ruled against the Zimbabwean government.

Rights groups said the SADC review of the Tribunal in Maputo, Mozambique, was supposed to lead to a strengthened and more independent court but instead it is now going to be a court which shuts out individual access.

The original Tribunal protocol made it clear that individuals also had access to the court – and all previous cases heard by the court had been brought by individuals seeking justice.

Fritz said not only did the SADC leaders deny the region’s citizens access to the Tribunal as the re-constituted court being sought by the regional body “will be a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Regional Coordinator Dewa Mavhinga said the SADC Tribunal has become a redundant court.

"It is a very disappointing development that clearly shows that SADC is pandering to the whims of the Zanu PF component of the Zimbabwean government which had fiercely fought to have the right of individual recourse removed from the Tribunal mandate and also the human rights mandate of the Tribunal to be diluted,” said Mavhinga.