By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
07 March 2014
The decision by Africa’s top human rights court to allow the deliberate hobbling of the Southern African regional Tribunal has been described as a ‘devastating’ indictment of justice on the continent.
The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has rejected a complaint filed by Zimbabwe farmers, who have been fighting to get the regional SADC Tribunal fully reinstated. The human rights court was suspended in 2011 after ruling against Robert Mugabe in 2008 when it declared the land grab campaign unlawful.
The farmers, Ben Freeth and Luke Tembani, both victims of that campaign, cited 14 SADC leaders in its complaint to the Commission. The landmark application was based in part on two articles within the African Charter on human rights, a binding piece of African Union (AU) law, which explicitly state that no AU members can prevent their citizens from accessing justice at national courts.
But the Commission has rejected the application on the technicality that the articles in the Charter refer only to national courts, and not regional courts like the SADC Tribunal.
Freeth told SW Radio Africa on Friday that the Commission’s decision is a “heavy blow” for human rights.
“It is a cop out by the Commission and says that it is ultimately only there to rubber stamp decisions of the EU executive. It has lost huge credibility as a result of this decision,” Freeth said.
He added that there is much speculation about the Commission’s decision being influenced by the AU’s decision to appoint Mugabe to a top position in the AU council last year. That development, which puts Mugabe in line to take over the chairmanship of the AU in 2015, coincided with the Commission’s decision.
“It is an absolute farce when the respondent in a case is ultimately someone determining the outcome of the case. And it is a mockery of justice in Africa,” Freeth said.