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Rights Groups Call for Improvements as SADC Holds Summit

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe

Rights groups are calling on leaders from the 15-nation Southern Africa Development Community to take steps to improve the rule of law and human rights as they meet for an annual summit Monday and Tuesday in Botswana.

Human Rights Watch and a coalition of African groups issued statements ahead of the summit with a particular focus on the SADC's now-suspended tribunal.

HRW criticized a decision last year to reform the tribunal into one that "would be stripped of the authority to receive complaints from individuals or organizations in the region."

"Action to strengthen the SADC human rights tribunal is a litmus test for its commitment to human rights," Dewa Mavhinga, senior Africa researcher at HRW, said in a statement Sunday. "SADC leaders should change course and restore the tribunal's power to receive and rule on human rights cases from individuals in member states."

The 19-member Coalition for an Effective SADC Tribunal said changes to the body "effectively disregards the independence of the judiciary," and that restoring individual access would give people in the region a legal path to justice when they have exhausted legal options in their country.

HRW also highlighted what it said were rights issues in Angola, Swaziland, South Africa and Zimbabwe, saying SADC states identified peace, security and human rights as priorities but "have taken little action."