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SADC new Tribunal to handle Malawi, Tanzania Lake border row

The SADC heads of states and government have signed and adopted four legal instruments at the conclusion of their two-day summit held at the resort town of Victoria falls in Zimbabwe chief among them being the revival of the Tribunal as an interstate body.

“This new protocol is in line with the directive that we gave as a Summit. We have also proposed the establishment of an Ad-Hoc administrative Tribunal to deal with labour matters between the SADC secretariatand its employees,” said the new SADC chairperson Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

The Tribunal will now only deal with cases between member states and not individuals or juristic bodies.

The new regional court’s jurisdiction will also be confined to advisory interpretation of the SADC Treaty and any other protocols that may be negotiated among member states

Other legal instruments signed are, the protocol on environmental management for sustainable development, on employment and labour and a declaration on regional infrastructure development.

One of the Tribunal’s Judges who spoke to NyasaTimes at the summit on strict condition of anonymity said the first case the reincarnated tribunal will deal with is the Malawi and Tanzania lake border dispute.

“The mediation team by former SADC heads of state has failed. And during discussion on the review of the new protocol on the tribunal calls have been made for the row to be adjudicated by the new Tribunal,” the source said.

The SADC panel set up to study the issue under Mozambique’s ex-President Joaquim Chissano has heard Malawi’s argument on why the border should not change.

It expresses the traditional view on colonial boundaries: that they are sacrosanct because changing them means chaos, according to the official submission, which is still confidential.

While many think it is unfair that Tanzania has no jurisdiction on the Lake, Malawi cites strong legal precedence.

The September 2013 deadline that the Malawi government set to conclude the mediation process passed quietly.

SADC outgoing Chairperson and Malawi President Professor Peter Mutharika has sent out mixed messages on the matter since assuming office three months ago.

At one point, he said the matter was an open and shut case because the lake belongs to Malawi. “The issue is non-negotiable,” he said.

In his campaign trail before the May 20, 2014 tripartite polls, Mutharika also hinted that Malawi was ready to defend the lake border if necessary.

Her predecessor Dr Joyce Banda even purchased seven patrol boats for the army from a controversial arms company, Paramount Group of South Africa.

“African countries have shown great reluctance to use any dispute settlement systems that require them to directly tackle the actions of another government so I would not expect that the SADC Tribunal will be used much at all if it is only limited to member states,” said Head of economic diplomacy programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) Catherine Grant.

Grant noted that by excluding individuals from using the SADC Tribunal, member states are further limiting their accountability to their citizens for regional commitments.

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