SADC Tribunal gets ready

This week, just about the time fears were mounting that the tribunal’s historic building in downtown Windhoek would turn into a white elephant, candidates were being interviewed to fill staff positions in order to get the regional court running.

On November 18 last year, Namibian Prime Minister Nahas Angula officially opened the building. At the ceremony, the judges of the tribunal were also sworn in to ready them to start hearing cases from SADC member countries or at least to offer legal advice to the SADC Heads of State and Government Summits.

During the ceremony, Mozambique’s Judge President Luis Mondlane was elected president of the tribunal.

Other members include Rigoberto Kambovo (Angola), Onkemetse Tshosa (Botswana), Isaac Mtambo (Malawi), Aringa Pillay (Mauritius), Petrus Damaseb (Namibia) and Stanley Maphalala (Swaziland).

Tanzania is represented by Frederick Werema, Zambia by Fredrick Chomba and Zimbabwe by Antonia Guvava.

The judges were selected by their national judicial bodies, based on credentials required for appointment to the highest judicial office in their home countries.

At last year’s inauguration, expectations were high from both those who witnessed the ceremony and the guest of honour himself who then called for the quick implementation of the regional court in line with the acceleration of regional integration.

“Today marks an important milestone in the annals of the history of SADC as the beacon of regional integration. The SADC Tribunal will only be a useful tool in this process if cases are brought before it; and if the protocols interpreted and applied by the Tribunal are ratified or acceded to by all Members States. Therefore, to avoid making the Tribunal a white elephant, we must encourage our people and institutions to use it and not to bypass it,” said Angula.

Dr Teodosio Wate, Head of the Legal Department at the SADC Secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana, said in a telephone interview: “The fact that people are being interviewed to take up the jobs is a sign that all is in place.”

He attributed the delay to logistical and administrative bottlenecks.

With most of the SADC protocols (from which the tribunal yields its powers) ratified and acceded to, member countries will have to recognise the court and respect its decisions.

The 10-person tribunal’s main responsibility is to assist member states in the constructive resolution of disputes.

It is also supposed to be responsible for resolving conflicts among member states as well as ensuring adherence to, and proper interpretation of, the SADC Treaty and other subsidiary instruments binding the regional grouping.

The tribunal was established under Article 9 of the SADC Treaty as a build-up to the regional integration process by playing the role of arbiter among member states.

It is also supposed to provide advisory opinions to the Heads of State and Government Summits, Council of Ministers and other organs of SADC.

Member states who feel aggrieved by another member state are supposed to take their case to the tribunal for judicial arbitration.

It also has powers to impose penalties on witnesses who deliberately fail to appear before it, or appear but refuse to testify without valid reasons.

Like in other courts, witnesses will take an oath in line with the laws and guidelines of their countries of residence.

The tribunal guidelines also provide that a member state shall treat a witness who violates the rules of the tribunal in the same manner as if the offence had been committed before one of its own courts.

In terms of Article 15 of the Protocol on tribunal, it will have jurisdiction over disputes between states as well as disputes between natural or legal persons and states.

The tribunal would also preside over matters relating to the interpretation, application or validity of SADC protocols and all subsidiary instruments adopted within the framework of the SADC community.

The verdict reached by the tribunal will be communicated to the states in conflict or any other parties.

September 2006
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