Zimbabwe law clashes against SADC law

Jan 31, 2010

Outrage as high court dismisses SADC land ruling

Posted by: "Barbara Goss"

Wed Jan 27, 2010 11:24 am (PST)


Outrage as high court dismisses SADC land ruling
By Alex Bell
27 January 2010

The shock decision this week by the High Court to dismiss a 2008 regional
ruling on the unlawful land 'reform' programme has sparked an angry outcry,
with some observers calling it a 'travesty of justice'.

Justice Barack Patel on Tuesday dismissed a finding by the human rights
court of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which ruled that
Robert Mugabe's land grab campaign was unlawful. Justice Patel said the
regional Tribunal's ruling would have no effect in Zimbabwe because of the
political upheaval reversing 10 years of land seizures would cause. He added
that enforcing the Tribunal's ruling would be against Zimbabwe's domestic
laws and agrarian policies, noting that "the greater public good must
"Apart from the political enormity of any such exercises, it would entail
the eviction, upheaval and eventual relocation of many, if not most, of the
beneficiaries of the land reform programme," Justice Patel said.
The SADC Tribunal's ruling in 2008 came as a hard won victory for a group of
79 commercial farmers who had all either lost land, or been targeted for
land invasion, under the chaotic land grab campaign. Led by Chegutu farmer,
Michael Campbell and his son-in-law Ben Freeth, the farmers took their
battle before the Tribunal in an effort to secure their property rights. The
Tribunal ordered that the government respect those rights and compensate the
farmers who had already lost land. As a SADC member state, Zimbabwe was
meant to adhere to the Tribunal ruling.

But the farmers' battle did not end there and the often violent drive to
remove the remaining commercial farmers from productive land in Zimbabwe has
continued to intensify. Campbell is no longer on the property which was
violently invaded last year by thugs working for top ZANU PF official,
Nathan Shamuyarira. All the crops were stolen along with much of the farming
equipment. Both the Campbell's and the Freeth's properties were burnt down,
as well as the homes of their workers, who were also beaten and brutalised.

At least 80 other properties have also, since the SADC ruling in late 2008,
been forcibly taken over, in direct contravention of the Tribunal's orders.
The government has previously dismissed the SADC ruling as 'null and void',
and last year announced it was no longer abiding by the Tribunal's orders.
The farmers meanwhile have not been able to have the ruling enforced,
because the courts have on different occasions refused to register it. SADC
treaty law states that enforcement of the Tribunal's orders must take place
in accordance with local laws. In 2008, an urgent application filed by
Campbell to have the Tribunal's ruling registered was deemed 'not urgent' by
the High Court.

Tuesday's ruling by Justice Patel was in connection with yet another attempt
to have the SADC Tribunal ruling registered and enforced. But in a decision
that has shocked supporters of the SADC ruling, Justice Patel dismissed it
as a threat to 'agrarian reform' in Zimbabwe.

Justice Patel concluded by saying that there is an "overwhelmingly negative
impact of the Tribunal's decision on domestic law and agrarian reform in
Zimbabwe, and not withstanding the international obligations of the
Government I am deeply satisfied that the registration and consequent
enforcement of that judgment would be fundamentally contrary to the public
policy of this country."

A rights group set up to actively campaign for the support and enforcement
of the SADC land ruling, reacted with shock and anger on Wednesday. The
group, SADC Tribunal Rights watch, is led by Ben Freeth. Speaking to SW
Radio Africa on Wednesday he said that "it is a sad day for any country rife
with human rights abuse, when a member of the judiciary entrenches the
future possibility of human rights abuse." Freeth added that far from being
for the 'public good', the land reform program has 'indisputably' been a
programme of violent, forced eviction that has resulted in the total
collapse of agriculture in Zimbabwe.

More than 4,000 farming families and at least a million of their workers and
their families have been driven off the land and out of their homes since
Mugabe launched the land grab campaign a decade ago. The country's leading
agricultural workers' union, GAPWUZ, has said that at least 60% of workers
evicted in the land reform exercise were beaten and brutalised by land
invaders. Farmers, who kept in contact with their staff after eviction, have
reported that 40% have died since losing their homes and jobs. Meanwhile
most of the beneficiaries of 'land reform' have been top ZANU PF officials,
who now own multiple properties. These farms have mostly been left to run
barren, leaving the 'breadbasket' of Africa almost wholly dependent on food

"The judge, in his attempt to legalise a programme of ethnic cleansing, has
joined the ranks of other judges under dictatorial regimes such as in Nazi
Germany or Stalinist Soviet Union and left Zimbabweans more exposed than
ever to further abuse by the Zimbabwe Government," Freeth said.

Within hours of the ruling, rights groups such as the SADC Tribunal Rights
Watch, as well as observers and supporters of the SADC ruling, were
expressing their outrage, but surprisingly there has been no comment yet
from SADC. They have remained completely silent throughout the entire time
that the Zimbabwe government has ignored its ruling. This latest High Court
ruling effectively dismisses the legal powers of the SADC Tribunal that
Zimbabwe, as a signatory to the SADC Treaty, is bound to respect. One would
also assume that other SADC member states, like South Africa, would have
expressed some concern that the region's statutes of human rights were being
publicly flouted by Zimbabwe. But no country in the region has commented

There has also been no criticism or response from the MDC, which recently
indicated that ongoing land attacks could be added to their list of
outstanding issues of the Global Political Agreement (GPA). The party last
week said it was 'concerned' by ongoing land invasions, but it has not
commented on this latest development.


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