THE Zimbabwe Anti Sanctions Movement (“ZASM”) aligned to the ruling party Zanu-PF plans to file a civil action in the Zimbabwe’s High Court to hold leaders of Citizens Coalition for Change, Nelson Chamisa, and Tendai Biti, amongst others, liable for what they allege to be damages caused upon what the lobby group purports to be innocent civilian lives and the Zimbabwean economy by unlawful United States, EU, UK, Canadian and Australian sanctions.
According to a report by The Southern Times, the organisation states that the action is based on evidence gathered over several years, including the recent report from the United Nations Special Rapporteur, and the alleged admissions by Mr Tongai Matatu (a member of the opposition who admitted to lobbying for unlawful sanctions to sabotage the Zimbabwean economy to win votes), which the statement suggests altogether proves that unlawful unilateral economic coercive sanctions have caused harm to innocent Zimbabwean civilians and the economy, to achieve the opposition, and the United States political objectives.
The statement continues by starting according to the 28th October 2021 preliminary report on the negative impact of sanctions by the U.N. Special Rapporteur for the negative impact of coercive economic measures, Zimbabwe has lost over US$100 billion due to the total impact of sanctions. It goes on further to suggest that Nelson Chamisa himself said the cost of getting infrastructure to pre-sanctions standards would cost more than US$24 billion. Additionally, it contends that the Minister of Finance, Mthuli Ncube, said that the Zimbabwean economy has lost over US$46 billion before calculating the ripple effect of sanctions on the whole country. ZASM shall embark on a lawful exercise to quantify the damages incurred by these illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe the statement says.
“ZASM joins SADC, the AU, most countries in the global south, and organisations in condemning the unlawful sanctions and crimes against humanity imposed upon Zimbabwe by illegal sanctions senders, in a manner inconsistent with the United Nations Charter. ZASM, therefore, calls on the United States of America to remove them, and the Banking Association of South Africa, together with its constituent banks, to stop defending unlawful sanctions on Zimbabwe” the statement further reads.
The Southern African Times reached out to Taffi Nyawanza who is a partner at Mezzle Law, a UK- registered international law firm for a comment on the legal strengths of the argument. “In my opinion, the claim fails before take-off on three grounds;
a) The Forum – sanctions are the acts of a foreign power. The High Court of Zimbabwe is unlikely to have the jurisdiction to hear such a claim. The sanction process has in-built mechanisms that allow for legal challenges in specific forums – those, or alternative international forums, would be better placed to hear this type of challenge. Getting the forum right at the outset matters when it comes to the enforcement of judgements.
b) The wrong defendants – sanctions are a tool which aims to accomplish particular foreign policies by, in this case, the USA. Nelson Chamisa and others may have supported, or even argued for them, but they are not US nationals, and more importantly, party to the sanction decision-making process. At the very least, the claim should have cited the US government;
c) The legal standing – even if jurisdiction is established and the right parties cited, the people bringing the claim would need to demonstrate that they have locus standi – legal standing. This is not a constitutional matter where such technicalities may be waived; here because of the nature of the claim, the plaintiffs will need to demonstrate that they are ‘authorised’ to bring the action on behalf of the people they claim to represent.
In response to the legal opinion rendered by the legal counsel of the Zimbabwe Anti Sanctions Movement Simba Chitando argued that Summation of the points. All of them are technical points for a case that has not been filed,
Response to each point directly:
(a) The Zimbabwe High Court does not have jurisdiction over the law-making process in the US but has jurisdiction over the application of foreign laws in Zimbabwe. To suggest the application of a law or a policy from abroad cannot be challenged in the domestic Court, where it is applied, is nonsense. Our courts have jurisdiction over what happens in Zimbabwe & what laws are applied in Zimbabwe. We are not a colony. To use a crude Example, Zimbabwe’s High Court has no jurisdiction over ISIS edicts in the Qoran but can ban the application of the edicts in Zimbabwe.
(b) The person who gave the legal opinion, has not read the press statement. It clearly says Chamisa, Biti, “amongst others”. There will be US defendants, as there are US defendants in the case we have going in South Africa. We cited American defendants. One can not say the wrong defendants if he/she doesn’t know the defendants.
(c) We have locus standi. Latin for standing to sue in court. As do any civil society organisations acting in the public interests. Civil society organisations, such as Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, amongst others have litigated in our Courts before, & are doing so right now. It is why we know Beatrice Mtetwa. The person who gave the “legal opinion” suggests that only civil society organisations that they like, & litigate based on convictions they support, have locus standi in Zimbabwean Courts, which is false. The Courts are open to all civil society organisations, not just those that follow the oppositions agenda.
In summary, you cannot give a “legal opinion” on a press statement. We said we are going to file a civil action. That’s the story.
We have not provided the Court papers, which is the only documentation that should invite a legal opinion. When asked when the court papers will be filed Chitando’s response was within the next 14 days.
Chitando is also involved in bringing a legal challenge against the decision by South Africas Department of Home Affairs to discontinue the ZEP system, which allows 178 000 Zimbabweans to live and work in SA, from June 2023.
The listed leaders of the opposition were contacted for comment and did not issue a response before the time of publishing.