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That the future of the SADC Tribunal would be governed by whim and not by law was signalled in its earliest days: its courthouse in Windhoek, Namibia was gutted by fire before it had even heard its first case. Had the Tribunal shut its doors then it would have been a far less ignominious end than was to happen five years later in August 2012 when the SADC Summit of heads of state and government (the Summit) decided to close it down.
The August 2012 decision was merely the final blow in a series of precursors. In 2010 the SADC Summit suspended the Tribunal pending a review of the Tribunal's role, functions and terms of reference. In 2011, the Summit extended the suspension of the Tribunal for another year.
This paper examines the implications of these decisions for the regional community generally and its respective member states. Most obviously, these decisions appear to register a regional community implacably opposed to the rule of law - notwithstanding the SADC Treaty's commitment to the principle.
Later this month, a High-Level Meeting of the UN General Assembly is to be held to coincide with the opening of its annual General Debate. Its theme, "rule of law at the national and international levels" represents recognition of the increased centrality of this issue at the global level. For South Africa especially, it will be difficult to finesse the enhanced appreciation for rule of law in international affairs and its recent actions regarding the SADC Tribunal.
Written by Nicole Fritz
South African Foreign Policy Initiative