Women traders operating between Uganda and Rwanda have sued the two governments seeking compensation for losses they have incurred since the border was closed in February.
The suit was filed in the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) in Arusha, Tanzania on June 21 by a consortium of three civil society organisations (CSOs) on behalf of about 600 affected women traders.
The CSOs are East African Sub-Regional Initiative for Advancement of Women (EASSI), Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) and Centre for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROTH).
They want the court to order the immediate opening of the border, arguing that the reasons for closure are not trade-related.
The petitioners argue that the two countries are EAC members who subscribe to the regional Common Market Protocol which should not be violated by political disagreements.
“Applicants respectively request court, pursuant of Articles 27 (1), 30 (1) and 38 of the (EAC) Treaty to declare that the act of closing border posts and denying the accessibility of traders and citizens from either state infringed the East African Treaty and violated the provisions of the Treaty and Protocol on the Establishment of the East African Community Common Market,” the suit reads in part.
They are also asking the regional court to order a permanent injunction against both countries never to close their border posts and to violate the economic rights of women.
They also want an order for an economic and social audit to ascertain the extent of damage to the women and compensate them accordingly.
Addressing a joint press conference in Kampala yesterday, Mr Kabanda said they hope that the EACJ will consider the plight of the traders and handle the matter expeditiously.
“The assurance we have is that the East African Court of Justice is a very effective court. We hope that it will consider the cries of the applicants,” he said.
Mr Kabanda said the categories of people who have incurred “uncountable” losses include farmers, landlords, school owners and truck drivers, among others.
Ms Sheilla Kawamara Mishambi, the executive director of EASSI, said the CSOs intervened after conducting survey in Kabale and Kisoro districts and speaking to some traders on the Rwandan side.
Efforts to get a comment from Maj Gen Frank Mugambage, the Rwandan High Commissioner to Uganda, about the suit were futile as his known telephone number remained switched off by press time.
However, we have obtained a copy of the notice issued by the EACJ to the Attorneys General of the two countries.
The documents were both received by the ministries of Justice in Kigali and Kampala on June 24.