Reconciling the Notion of Sovereignty with SADC’s Human Rights Protection Mandate

Authors Obonye Jonas

ISSN: 2026-8556
Affiliations: Lecturer, Law Department, University of Botswana Practising Attorney with Jonas Attorneys
Source: SADC Law Journal, The, 2013, p. 212 – 237


Sovereignty and human rights are seemingly fundamentally opposed notions. Obligations to protect human rights are thus regularly perceived as besieging or assaulting or contradicting state sovereignty. This understanding of the relationship between sovereignty and human rights is the subject of common lament, especially among human rights scholars. They challenge strict legalism that views sovereignty as entitling states to non-interference in their internal affairs. However, legal pragmatism and international relations have propelled states towards cooperation for the establishment of an international comity. In furtherance of this cooperation, especially at multilateral level, states have preferred the creation of specialised international or regional institutions for the realisation of set goals. The SADC is one such regional institution. Though formed to foster regional integration and spur economic growth in Southern Africa, it also has a human rights protection mandate. Owing to its slavish adherence to the venerable doctrine of state sovereignty (in its traditional form), the SADC, as a body or its members countries have on numerous occasions failed to intervene in territories of other member states to protect human rights of citizens. Where it did intervene as it did in Madagascar and Zimbabwe, it has done so in a carefully measured way so as to amount to no intervention at all. This article argues that the reformulation of the notion of sovereignty as by influenced notions of human rights has left states no less sovereign than they were during the time of Aristotle, several decades ago. Far from undermining sovereignty, human rights are embedded in sovereignty itself. In statehood, both sovereignty and human rights have found space and they must coexist. None of the two must be undermined in favour of the other. Legal and political practices demand this to be so.