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East African court delivers verdict on Gatuna border closure

Gatuna border post official reopening after a two year closure. File Photo

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The closure of the Gatuna border by Rwanda was illegal and contravened the East African Community Treaty, the East African Court of Justice has ruled. A panel of three Judges of the East African Court of Justice comprising Monica Mugenyi from Uganda, Audace Ngiye from Burundi, and Dr. Charles Nyawello from South Sudan delivered the verdict read in a zoom court session on Thursday.

The judges noted that the actions of the Rwandan government contravened provisions of the EAC treaty including Article 5, which lays down the objectives of the community, Article 6 on fundamental principles of the Community, and Article 7 which provides for the operational principles of the Community. In February 2019, Rwanda closed the Gatuna border, blocking the movement of people and goods from Uganda and Rwanda.

At first, Rwanda claimed that they had closed the border to pave way for road construction works, which left several travelers including cargo trucks stuck at the border. The Rwandan government later accused Ugandan authorities of abducting, arbitrarily arresting, jailing, torturing, and illegally deporting Rwandans who come to Uganda. Rwanda also accused Uganda of hosting, sponsoring, and facilitating terrorist groups, specifically the Rwanda National Congress-RNC and The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda FDLR, that have declared war on the Kigali government.

Rwanda issued an advisory warning  its citizens against traveling to Uganda, saying it cannot guarantee their safety while in Uganda. This prompted city lawyer Steven Kalali to sue the Rwandan government on grounds of abusing the EAC community treaty provision of free movement across borders, denying Rwandan citizens freedom to travel to a destination of their choice like Uganda, and obstructing trade between the two countries due to the border closure.

Speaking to journalists after the court session, Kalali expressed gratitude that the court determined the case in his favor. He said the ruling should work as a lesson to member states that when they are part of a treaty, they should respect its provisions.

Kalali who was represented by a team of three lawyers led by Isaac Kenneth Muwanga had asked for costs but the panel ordered that all parties meet their own costs, arguing this was a matter of public interest.

The ruling has been overtaken by events since Rwanda opened its border in March this year following a meeting between the Commander of Land forces and first son Muhoozi Kainerugaba and Rwandan president Paul Kagame in Kigali.

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