/ 27 March 2008

SADC lawyers’ body barred from Zim elections

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Lawyers’ Association has effectively been barred from observing Saturday’s Zimbabwean elections.

The association, whose head office is in Gaborone, Botswana, filed an application to the Zimbabwean embassy in Botswana at the beginning of March, but has not received any formal response.

“Foreign observers have to be invited by the [Zimbabwean] Foreign Affairs Department and all we could do was wait to be invited, but we sent an application for invitation when we saw that there was no action,” said Sternford Moyo, president of the association, on Thursday.

Moyo told the Mail & Guardian Online that the association sent another letter to Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Department on Wednesday to request accreditation.

The letter says that “a list of observers was, apparently, approved by Cabinet”, and that the association was not included in this list.

It emphasises the importance of unrestricted independent and impartial electoral observation by international institutions such as the lawyers’ association to the promotion and protection of fundamental democratic rights — including the rights aimed at the selection of political leaders.

The letter also states that “press reports quoting senior officials of the government of Zimbabwe have suggested that international observation of the election will be confined to selected friendly countries, organisations and institutions”.

“This is most unfortunate because an election is supposed to be an open event that should be free and fair and be seen to be free and fair,” Moyo said, adding that the lawyers’ association fosters democracy and good governance.

The association said that it is not too late to salvage the situation. “We will patiently await a response from Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Department because so far we have not received anything from them,” Moyo said.

When the M&G Online asked the South African Foreign Affairs Department for comment, an official said: “You can’t expect the South African Foreign Affairs Department to comment on what the Zimbabwean Foreign Affairs Department decided to do. Why don’t you call Zimbabwe’s foreign affairs?”