Back to Top

Human rights history made as African Commission declares Zimbabwean farmers’ case admissible

Via AfriForum Press Release: The campaign to restore the rule of law in Zimbabwe and to reinstate the international court of the SADC Tribunal after its suspension by the SADC Heads of State in August 2011 has seen an important breakthrough.

The African Commission today ruled that the complaint lodged with it on behalf of Zimbabwean farmers Luke Tembani and Ben Freeth against 14 heads of state of SADC countries was admissible despite preliminary procedural objections raised against it by amongst others Tanzania.

The ruling was made at the 52nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights held at Yamoousskro, Cote d’Ivoire.

The complaint by Tembani and Freeth related to the decision of the SADC Summit at Maputo in July to suspend the SADC Tribunal, which in a series of rulings had held the Government of Zimbabwe in breach of the SADC Treaty and other international legal obligations.

The approach to the African Commission followed an earlier urgent application submitted by a legal team led by Adv. Jeremy Gauntlett, SC, a leading South African advocate, to the SADC Tribunal in April 2011. The application asked for an order that would ensure the SADC Tribunal would continue to function in all respects as established by Article 16 of the SADC Treaty. It was the first time in legal history that a group of heads of state was cited by an individual as the respondent in an application to an international court.

Both applications were filed on behalf of two dispossessed Zimbabwean commercial farmers, Ben Freeth (41), formerly of Mount Carmel farm, the son-in-law of the late Mike Campbell, who initiated the original farm test case with the SADC Tribunal, and Luke Tembani (75), formerly of Minverwag farm. However, at the SADC Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State in Namibia on 20 May 2011, the Ministers of Justice of SADC countries were mandated to initiate a process aimed at amending the relevant SADC legal instruments to change the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. A final report was to be presented the Summit in Maputo in August 2012.

Despite intensive lobbying, the SADC leaders resolved at the Maputo Summit that a new Protocol on the Tribunal should be negotiated and its mandate confined to interpretation of the SADC Treaty and Protocols relating to disputes between Member States.

Consequently individuals in all 14 member states no longer have access to the internationally respected court after being denied access to justice in their own countries. Disputes between the states themselves also now cannot be adjudicated.

Between 2007 and 2010, the Tribunal ruled on 20 cases that included disputes between citizens and their governments as well as cases between companies and governments.

“The move by the Heads of State of SADC to suspend southern Africa’s highest human rights and international law court, the SADC Tribunal, sent shock waves throughout the human rights and legal community in the region and internationally,” said Freeth from Harare.

Freeth and Tembani’s legal team now has 60 days to make further submissions on the merits of their complaint, after which the Commission will consider the complaint.

“We believe this will result in significant pressure to ensure that the SADC Tribunal is allowed to resume operations for the benefit of all victims of injustice and the abuse of power in southern Africa,” said Freeth.

Luke Tembani also expressed relief at the news.

“I was previously a successful commercial farmer and was respected in our community,” said Tembani. “Now I am poor through no fault of my own. All I want is justice – and in Zimbabwe justice has left me.”

In South Africa an international law practitioner who asked not to be named commented that it was “unprecedented” for the African Commission to be considering a human rights matter regarding the actions of 14 governments. “All preliminary procedural objections and hurdles have now been overcome. The case is on track. The matter can now proceed”.

Add new comment

  • Articles
  • Reports
Zimbabwe farmers
IntroductionThis is my last article in this series and I have given...
Sunday, 25 May 2014 - 1:01pm
rural farm Zimbabwe
SummaryThis final article examines the importance of land policy for...
Wednesday, 7 May 2014 - 10:31am
Zimbabwe farmer
IntroductionIn this 11th of 12 articles, I bring the issue of land in...
Tuesday, 6 May 2014 - 7:22pm
cattle herder - Zimbabwe
IntroductionIn this 10th of 12 articles I focus on the need to...
Thursday, 28 November 2013 - 11:02am
Zimbabwe smallholding
SummaryThe debate on land tenure has reached an impasse. A...
Tuesday, 12 November 2013 - 7:31pm
Zanupf Rally, 2013
In a reworked narrative on nationalism, veterans were cast as the...
Wednesday, 2 October 2013 - 11:03am
Note to all: please contact info@sokwanele.com if you have...
Monday, 19 August 2013 - 10:10am
I was ten years old when my two best friends were murdered. I can...
Monday, 5 August 2013 - 3:16pm
ZEC Zimbabwe Voter Registration billboard
In Zimbabwe Election Watch Issue 3 we discussed The President's...
Thursday, 27 June 2013 - 3:46pm
The South African weekly newspaper, the Mail & Guardian,...
Monday, 10 June 2013 - 2:55pm
Simba Makoni, Morgan Tsvangirai, Dumiso Dabengwa
Zimbabwe Election Watch Issue 3 is written in the wake of a...
Thursday, 6 June 2013 - 11:36am
February 2013 has come and gone, bringing with it yet another set of...
Tuesday, 21 May 2013 - 8:51am
A woman waits to obtain her national identity card during a voter registration drive in Harare May 9, 2013
Issue 2 of Zimbabwe Election Watch (ZEW) continues Sokwanele's...
Wednesday, 15 May 2013 - 9:31am
We are Zimbabwe logo
Have you ever sat down to read the newspaper, perhaps during your...
Monday, 29 April 2013 - 9:58am
Beatrice Mtetwa exiting a police vehicle
We are launching Zimbabwe Election Watch 2013 on Independence Day....
Thursday, 18 April 2013 - 8:06am

21.08.2013 Judge Bhunu under fire for call to arrest Tsvangirai’s lawyers SW Radio Africa (ZW)
20.08.2013 MDC-T stab victim ‘lucky to be alive’ SW Radio Africa (ZW)
19.08.2013 MDC-T under attack in Mugabe’s home district SW Radio Africa (ZW)
16.08.2013 Tsvangirai withdraws Presidential Polls Challenge SW Radio Africa (ZW)
16.08.2013 Concern raised as women and children flee ZANU PF violence SW Radio Africa (ZW)
15.08.2013 Increasing political retribution against MDC-T supporters SW Radio Africa (ZW)
15.08.2013 Binga villagers in fear as ZPF retribution continues SW Radio Africa (ZW)
15.08.2013 Judge defers ruling on Tsvangirai’s election records request SW Radio Africa (ZW)
15.08.2013 Tsvangirai MDC Says Mozambicans Voted in Zimbabwe Polls VOANews (USA)
15.08.2013 Villagers threatened over elections Zimbabwean, The (ZW)
14.08.2013 Komichi trial date finally set as lawyers prepare fresh bail appeal SW Radio Africa (ZW)
14.08.2013 Tsvangirai presidential challenge to be heard Saturday SW Radio Africa (ZW)
13.08.2013 Mugabe criticized for hate speech on Heroes Day SW Radio Africa (ZW)
13.08.2013 SABC journalists held for filming ‘Freedom Square’ SW Radio Africa (ZW)
13.08.2013 Police refuse to assist threatened headman in Chimanimani SW Radio Africa (ZW)
12.08.2013 Mberengwa women left half-naked by ZANU PF activists SW Radio Africa (ZW)
12.08.2013 Timba kick-starts fight to have Mt Pleasant poll result annulled SW Radio Africa (ZW)
10.08.2013 Nikuv paid $10 million to rig polls - MDC-T Nehanda Radio
09.08.2013 Police search MDC-T Chikomba office as ZPF retribution continues SW Radio Africa (ZW)
09.08.2013 Tsvangirai files ConCourt presidential appeal SW Radio Africa (ZW)

Latest comments

Mourning the loss of hope and security in the wake of a shamelessly stolen election: what can we do?

Kenneth Donald : 09 August 2013

Bless you Rose for your gracious e-mail and your prayerful concern for your people of Zimbabwe. As a Christian in Scotland,we pray for Zimbabwe at thisdifficult & painful time. May the Lord...

M.Spinks : 07 August 2013

Thank you for your words - as a Zimbabwean living in the UK now, I have been feeling very depressed about the election results and also angry with the corrupt, immoral and insane ZANU-PF party....

Eugene Visser : 06 August 2013

Brilliantly sad article. 

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I stab at...

Debra : 06 August 2013

Thank-you for writing this beautiful heartfelt letter, for sharing what you have shared. It is so unbelievably wrong that your lives in your country are held 'hostage' by this farcical power-...

Rose Brent : 06 August 2013

Reading this has brought back so many unhappy memories and hopes and dreams that have been shatered.... I can hear and feel your pain. I too am a Zimbabwean and am treated like I am an Alien...

Ros Lindley : 06 August 2013

I am not Zimbabwean, but I applaud your bravery to speak out.  I wish you well and I apologise for my president's congratulations of the elections and the result.  My prayers and love are with you...

TERENCE fRENCH : 06 August 2013

Another stolen election, and confirmation that the choice to emigrate frommy homeland has been justified by history. What a cruel oppressive government.

Estelle O'Reilly : 05 August 2013

A few weeks before the elections, my husband and I checked online to see if we were registered to vote. We were both registered, and under Ward 10 in Kadoma Central. When we got inside, I was on...

Anonymous : 05 August 2013

This article captures my feelings at the moment perfectly. Thank you so much for writing this. The people of Zimbabwe are not stupid, and we can hope that in the end justice will prevail. The...

ZANU PF Manifesto: Team Zanu PF 2013

Musimuvi : 07 August 2013

Doe it not hurt to work up and find your self so wrong, now that the results are out. Next time please do not speak on behalf of the people whom you seem to have completely no clue about.

Sometimes I hate to be Zimbabwean

Nhamodzenyika Freedom : 07 August 2013

Simon great article know that you do not stand alone  there are lots of zimbabweans who feel the same way

Statement by the Government of Botswana on the 2013 Election in the Republic of Zimbabwe

buxus-hans : 06 August 2013

oneparty claims victory; it is all a lie and the bill will come as investors now pull out of Zimbabwe.Which means more hardship for the families who already have a hard life....

Declaration by the High Representative Catherine Ashton on behalf of the EU on the elections in Zimbabwe

Abel Rumbwere : 05 August 2013

new look zimbabwe

marco camoronezi : 04 August 2013

Congratulations to Zimbabwe for a peaceful election that certainly deserves thumps up from all corners of the globe.After all this is an election like no other but one that is bound to be...

judy van aard : 04 August 2013

Anybody who believes it was free and fair whn it was so obviouslyy

ririgged is a complete idiot. ZANU had it so tied up they didn't even to use violence. SADSADC and the AU worship Mugabe...

President Tsvangirai’s statement to the press after the MDC national council meeting, Harare, 3 August 2013

mucha : 03 August 2013

Mr Tsvangson, pliz accept defeat and that will retain credibility as a leader. You didn't do your home work properly. You didn't encourage your supporters to register and relied on the same voters...

ZEC Results: announced 1 August 2013

mafana : 02 August 2013

Zim political parties should think about the people's welfare and not self willed personal interests.Voter margins show in mos places a united front would have brought about a different result.

When youths become too important

ZANDILE : 01 August 2013

Finally, somebody shares my thoughts! I feel sorry for these youths and their parents.

This time I will rise up

Immie : 31 July 2013

God bless you. You have my support.

Forces of evil lurking in the dark

True Grit : 31 July 2013

One can only hope that the result will be a positive one for Zimbabwe's future.