By Alex Bell
19 July 2010
The government has once again snubbed a ruling by the human rights court of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), saying the ruling is of “no consequence” to Zimbabwe.
The comments were made by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa over the weekend, after the SADC Tribunal ruled that the government was in contempt, for ignoring previous rulings over unlawful land seizures. The contempt ruling is the third since the government was taken to court over the land ‘reform’ programme in 2008, and the case will now be referred to the SADC summit in Namibia next month.
But ZANU PF’s Chinamasa on Sunday told the state controlled Herald newspaper that SADC rulings would never change the government’s position on land ‘reform’. He added that the position on the SADC Tribunal remained the same, in that that it did not recognise its judgements.
"Our position remains the same that we don't recognise the SADC Tribunal for reasons that we have given before. The farmers can have as many such judgements as they can but they will be of no effect in our jurisdiction," he said.
"The farmers are wasting their time and money and are only going there for propaganda purposes. They are entitled to play their propaganda by going to the Tribunal but we will not recognise the judgement," he said.
The Tribunal on Friday ruled that farmers can refer their grievances to the SADC summit in August, as the Zimbabwean government has still failed to protect them and their rights to their land. This decision followed an urgent court application made by farmers Louis Fick and Mike Campbell last month, in a bid to force SADC leaders to intervene.
The application called on the SADC Tribunal to consider measures under the SADC Treaty to terminate or suspend Zimbabwe’s membership from SADC. The basis of the application is that the government remains in contempt of the SADC Tribunal by allowing ongoing farms invasions, arrests, prosecutions and imprisonment of farmers, despite a Tribunal order to protect the same farmers.
The government was ordered to protect these rights in a landmark ruling by the Tribunal in 2008, which said that land ‘reform’ was unlawful and discriminatory. That ruling has been completely ignored by the government, which was eventually charged with contempt by the Tribunal. Previous comments by Chinamasa dismissing the Tribunal landed the government in further hot water, when another contempt charge was eventually handed down.
Chegutu farmer Ben Freeth, who heads the SADC Tribunal Rights Watch group, on Monday told SW Radio Africa that the ball is now in SADC’s court to take firm action with Zimbabwe. He explained that the Tribunal is a “visionary concept that means nothing until judgements are implemented.”
“A court with no teeth is a pretty useless thing,” Freeth said. “It paints a gloomy picture for the whole SADC region if human rights abuses are allowed to continue in this way.”
Meanwhile South Africa’s main political opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), on Monday said that regional leaders are to blame for allowing Robert Mugabe’s party to continuously flout SADC law. The DA’s Wilmot James said that Mugabe “has shown SADC the finger, again.”
“Honouring the Tribunal's rulings is a fundamental point of democratic adherence to the rule of law, the honouring of the independence of the judiciary and the legitimacy of SADC. Zimbabwe stands in brazen contempt of SADC of which it is a member state,” James said.
The DA last year called on South African President Jacob Zuma to enforce the Tribunal's ruling on the Zimbabwean government while he was head of SADC. Zuma however, accomplished nothing. James said on Monday that the South African government should “reverse its stance, and ought to be doing everything in its power to convince President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo - the incumbent head of SADC - to enforce the ruling.”
“We must also ask ourselves exactly what South Africa's commitment to SADC is. We hear a great deal from the Zuma administration about the need to foster close ties with our neighbours as we supposedly work towards achieving closer economic integration and a proliferation of common values. However, these commitments mean very little if the mechanism through which they are to be achieved, the SADC body, remains nothing more than an opportunity for grand but ultimately empty speeches and promises,” James said. strict bail conditions, including reporting to the police on a daily basis and surrendering his passport.