At the frontline of promoting human rights and the rule of law in Southern Africa is a number of NGO’s committed to taking up causes of marginalised groups and cases with a public interest. One such NGO based in Johannesburg and with links to lawyers and other human rights organisations across the region is the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC). SALC takes up public interest cases and conducts training, research and advocacy in eleven Southern African countries to advance the rights of marginalised and vulnerable groups and to strengthen the rule of law. The eleven countries that SALC focuses on are Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
SALC was launched in 2005, originally as a joint initiative of the International Bar Association (IBA) and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA). Since then, it has gained notable victories in the pursuit of its aims with a number of public interest cases under its belt. As an example, SALC was successful in supporting a woman in Zimbabwe after she was awarded only a child’s share of the farm she had jointly purchased with her deceased husband. After successful litigation before the High Court in Zimbabwe, the Court declared that the surviving woman was the sole beneficiary of the entire farm holding that the inheritance laws which led her to inherit only a child’s share were an infringement of the protection provided for by the Constitution in Zimbabwe.
The court therefore ordered that the convictions be set aside and the fines paid by the women returned to them. It was also noted that the arrests were carried out to embarrass and harass the women.
In Malawi, SALC assisted the Centre for Human Rights Education Advice, an organisation representing 19 sex workers who were arrested and charged with the offence of living on the earnings of prostitution. Unaware of their rights and the legal implications, the women pleaded guilty to the charges and were convicted and fined. However, the court found that the law in Malawi did not prohibit sex work but was aimed at those who sought to exploit sex workers by living off their earnings. The court therefore ordered that the convictions be set aside and the fines paid by the women returned to them. It was also noted that the arrests were carried out to embarrass and harass the women.
With regard to individuals suspected of war crimes, SALC successfully litigated against South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs regarding the status of former Rwandan General Kayumba Nyamwasa and the failure to arrest Sudanese President Omar al Bashir. This resulted in the South African government having to reconsider its decision to grant General Nyamwasa asylum and the Supreme Court of South Africa finding that the failure to arrest President Bashir when he visited South Africa was unlawful and in contravention of South Africa’s international and domestic commitments.
… this organisation also works to increase public awareness of the importance of taking cases to court; enhancing the quality of arguments made before domestic courts
The above are just some of the examples of the range of work undertaken by SALC. In addition to the above, this organisation also works to increase public awareness of the importance of taking cases to court; enhancing the quality of arguments made before domestic courts and ensuring such arguments are supported by rigorous research and applicable authority. In so doing it aims to secure authoritative court judgments establishing strong legal precedents that uphold and protect human rights and the rule of law in the region. To find out more about this organisation and read their latest report, please visit www.southernafricalitigationcentre.org or follow their twitter account @follow_SALC.