The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has made the potentially devastating decision to dissolve the regional human rights court, for at least another year.

The Tribunal has already been suspended for more than six months, after SADC leaders last year decided to review the mandate and functions of the court. This was the result of Zimbabwe’s refusal to honour the Tribunal’s 2008 rulings on the land grab campaign, which the court said was unlawful. But in a clear sign of allegiance to Robert Mugabe, SADC leaders suspended the Tribunal, rather than force Zimbabwe to abide by the rulings.

The review, sanctioned by SADC, has been concluded, and an independent report on its role and functions was presented to SADC leaders at the Summit in Namibia last week. But despite this review upholding the court’s rulings on Zimbabwe, and also reasserting the court’s jurisdiction in the region, SADC leaders have still refused to fully reinstate it. Instead, they have given its Council of Justice Ministers and Attorney Generals at least another 12 months to review the court, again.

The Tribunal was set up as an impendent legal body that would provide SADC citizens with a platform to seek justice, when all other legal avenues in their own countries had been exhausted.  Critically, the court is supposed to give SADC citizens the chance to hold their own governments to account, when their human rights are infringed upon.

The decision to dissolve the court is now being described as ‘devastating’, ‘regressive’, and a clear sign that SADC does not have the rights of its hundreds of millions of citizens at heart.

The Southern African Litigation Centre has called the decision an act of sabotage that could have a “devastating impact on human rights and peoples’ ability to access justice.” The group said that SADC leaders have now shown where their loyalties lie, because they would rather protect Robert Mugabe than protect human rights or the rule of law.

The group’s Lloyd Kuveya told SW Radio Africa on Monday that SADC leaders have “dealt a potentially fatal blow to the rule of law across the region.”

“This decision is a violation of the independence of the court, a violation of the rights of SADC citizens to access to legal recourse. SADC citizens will now not be able to seek relief if their rights are infringed in their countries,” Kuveya said.

He continued saying that the loyalty to Mugabe that is being put on display is a sign of the “shocking lack of leadership in the region.”

“Instead of sanctioning Zimbabwe, SADC leaders have imposed legal sanctions on all of its citizens, preventing them from seeking legitimate legal redress at a regional level,” Kuveya said.

Further proving where SADC’s loyalties lie were comments by the regional bloc’s Executive Secretary, Tomaz Salomão, who said that the media and the general public would have no access to the details of the Tribunal’s expected restructure. SADC’s Justice Ministers are thought to have recommended amendments that will protect member states from cases brought against them by their citizens.

But Salomão told journalists that neither the media nor SADC citizens needed to know what the ministers had said about the fate of the Tribunal.

Zimbabwe civil society groups have slammed last week’s harassment and intimidation of activists at the regional leaders Summit in Namibia, which resulted in the prolonged detention and interrogation of key figures.

The civil society groups, including representatives from the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, traveled to Namibia to lobby SADC leaders and pressure them to lay out a clear plan for democratic change in Zimbabwe. But their efforts were quickly thwarted by Namibia security officers and members of Zimbabwe’s CIO, who led a crackdown on the activists.

First to be targeted were about ten activists, including National Association of Non Governmental Organisations (NANGO) chairperson Dadirai Chikwengo, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition officials MacDonald Lewanika, Pedzisayi Ruhanya and Dewa Mavhinga, and other representatives from the Zimbabwe Election Support.

The state security agents also briefly detained Jelousy Mawarire for taking pictures and chased away Shastry Njeru of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum from the venue of the SADC Summit. Mawarire, who had his pictures deleted from his camera, was later released after the intervention of Namibian human rights lawyer Norman Tjombe.

Also targeted were Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) head, Irene Petras, Joy Mabenge from the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe, Lloyd Kuveya of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, and Makanatsa Makonese of the SADC Lawyers Association. The four were force-marched into the hotel’s parking area by two armed Namibian police who took them to the local Chief Inspector. They were then interrogated separately by Zimbabwe’s state security agents.

The Crisis Coalition’s Mavhinga told SW Radio Africa on Monday that the activists were only allowed to leave well after the SADC summit had ended on Friday night. He explained how Zimbabwe’s state security agents were directing Namibian police to individually target activists who were calling for real democratic change in Zimbabwe.

“We condemn, in the strongest possible terms the treatment of the activists at the Summit. Clearly Namibia is not committed to human rights, and they are putting their relationship with ZANU PF before the rights of SADC citizens,” Mavhinga said.

Meanwhile the ZLHR said it “strongly condemns this despicable conduct.”

“The actions of the state security agents highlights the need to urgently reform the security sector players as enunciated in the Global Political Agreement as they continue to be a law unto themselves even beyond the borders of Zimbabwe,” the group said in a statement.