First Instance Division heard the Case by Uganda Residents on Alleged Freezing of their Bank Accounts in 1980's
East African Court of Justice Arusha, 11th June 2018: The East African Court of Justice First Instance Division on 11th June 2018 heard the matter instituted by Ismail Dabule on his behalf and on behalf of 1004 other Ugandan residents against the Attorney General of the Republic of Uganda, sued on behalf of the Government.
Counsel for the Applicants submitted that, the matter was filed within the two months time limit required under Article 30(2) of the Treaty Establishing the East African Community. Counsel argued that, the gist of the case is based on alleged refusal by the Minister of Finance of the Government of Uganda to release the Applicants unfrozen funds after the decisions of the Constitutional and Supreme Court of Uganda respectively clarified that there is no law in place freezing the Applicants accounts and thus the Applicants were free to access their bank accounts. Counsel argued that, on 5th August 2016 the Applicants wrote a letter to the aforesaid Minister demanding for release of their funds and the letter was received by the Minister on 6th August 2016. In the letter the Applicants stated, if no response is made to their final demand in the letter, the Applicants shall consider the silence as refusal by the Government to release the aforesaid alleged unfrozen funds. On this basis, Counsel argued that the two months time limitation began to run from 6th August 2016 when the Applicants did not receive any response from the Minister of Finance with regard to the letter.
Counsel for the Applicants further argued, after the Constitutional and Supreme Court of Uganda have clarified as to whether or not there was a law freezing the Applicants accounts, the action of the Government of Uganda refusing to release the money without any justification is what the Applicants consider a violation of Articles 6(d) & 7(2) of the Treaty, the right to property under Article 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights as well as Article 26 of Ugandan Constitution. Further argued, Uganda being a member of the Treaty, is bound to adhere to the rule of law and good governance. Thus, refusing to release the Applicants money even after the aforesaid decisions of Constitutional and Supreme Court of Uganda is a breach of Articles 6(d) & 7(2) of the Treaty in relation to the principles of good governance, rule of law and promotion and protection of human rights.
Further argued that, in the aforesaid letter dated 5th August 2016 the Applicants requested for information in regard to their accounts held by the Bank of Uganda to determine the position and amounts available. However, the Minister of Finance refused as well to provide the Applicants with the aforementioned documents. The refusal by the Minister of Finance to provide the Applicants with the documents and account balances in relation to their frozen accounts is also a violation of Article 6(d) and 7(2) of the Treaty as well as Article 41 of Uganda Constitution which enjoys citizens the right to information.
Further, the continued refusal by the Government of Uganda to release the Applicants funds without bring them to Court as to why their money is held is a violation of Article 28(1) of the Constitution of Uganda which requires in determination of any civil rights and obligations or any criminal charge a person shall be entitled to a fair, speedy and public hearing before an impartial tribunal established by law. It is the Applicants contention that the Government continued refusal without saying anything amount to torture which is restricted under Article 44 A as well as Article 24 of the Constitution of Uganda.
Counsel pray that the Court declares the above actions of the Government of Uganda as a violation of the Treaty and order the Government of Uganda to comply with the Treaty as well as grant the Applicants cost incidental to the case.
The Respondent on their part argued that, the case has been filed out of the time limitation period required under the Treaty and no exception is provided under the Treaty on the requirement. It is the Respondent submission that, the time for the Applicants to institute the case started far back from 2004 when they instituted a Civil suit before the High Court in Kampala, Uganda and the same was dismissed on 31st October 2013 for being time barred, a decision which was not appealed against. on this basis the matter is time barred and should be strike out with cost.
Further, Counsel for the Applicant did not point out which Court decision clarified the right of the Applicants to access their unfrozen funds. The Supreme Court of Uganda only offered guidance to the Applicants to submit their claims before any ordinary Court for investigation and redress. The Supreme Court did not declare the right of the Applicants to be paid their frozen money.
Moreover, no Judgement or decision from any Ugandan Court that have declared the rights of the Applicants to have access to their frozen accounts. Further, Applicants never filed any suit before any Court of Uganda to substantially investigate and concussively make a determination of the Applicants alleged rights of having access to their frozen accounts. That it is not true that time for the filing of the matter started when Court made a determination that they have a right to access their accounts. The Respondent however brought to the Court attention that there is a pending matter in this respect before the High Court of Uganda (Civil Suit No. 300 of 2015) between the Applicants, Bank of Uganda and the Respondent which have not been heard and neither finally determined. To the Respondent surprise the Applicants went ahead to file the present matter before this Court. The Applicants submission that the Respondent has failed to release the frozen funds after the alleged clarification by the Constitutional and Supreme Court is not tenable and a misrepresentation as no Court have substantively adjudicated upon the alleged Applicants rights.
The Respondent therefore contended among other things that they are not in violation of the Treaty provisions and the Applicants attempts of pursuing the same matter in the High Court of Uganda and in this Court is an abuse of the Court process. The Respondent submitted that the Applicants are not entitled to any remedy and finally invited the Court to invoke its inherent powers and strike the Reference.
Court will deliver its judgement on notice.
Applicants were represented by Counsel Omongole Richard while Ojiambo Bichachi and Esther Nyangoma appeared for the Respondent.
The First Instance Division bench was composed of Honorable Judges Lady Justice Monica Mugenyi (Principal Judge), Honourable Justice Dr. Faustin Ntezilyayo , Honourable Justice Fakihi A. Jundu, Honourable Justice Audace Ngiye and Honourable Jusitce Dr Charles O. Nyawello.
Note for Editors:
Articles 6(d) provides on; Fundamental Principles of the Community
The fundamental principles that shall govern the achievement of the objectives of the Community by the Partner States shall include:
(d) good governance including adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, accountability, transparency, social justice, equal opportunities, gender equality, as well as the recognition, promotion and protection of human and peoples rights in accordance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
Article 7 : Operational Principles of the Community
- The Partner States undertake to abide by the principles of good governance, including adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, social justice and the maintenance of universally accepted standards of human rights
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About the East African Court of Justice:
The East African Court of Justice (EACJ or ‘the Court’), is one of the organs of the East African Community established under Article 9 of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community. Established in November 2001, the Court’s major responsibility is to ensure the adherence to law in the interpretation and application of and compliance with the EAC Treaty.
Arusha is the temporary seat of the Court until the Summit determines its permanent seat. The Court’s sub-registries are located in the respective National Courts in the Partner States.