East African Court of Justice

The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) is an international court tasked with resolving disputes involving the East African Community and its Member States. The EACJ was established by Article 9 of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community and is charged with interpreting and enforcing the treaty, which came into force on July 7, 2000. The East African Court of Justice does not have competence to hear individual complaints of alleged violations of human rights law, as such. The EACJ is based in Arusha, Tanzania.

The East African Community is a regional integration organization whose Member States are Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. The Community’s goals are free movement of people and goods, economic integration, and political union among the Member States. Article 6 (d) of the establishing Treaty lists fundamental principles intended to guide the institution as: “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.”

With regard to the EACJ’s possible role in disputes related to fundamental rights, Article 27 of the Treaty provides, “The Court shall have such other original, appellate, human rights and other jurisdiction as will be determined by the Council at a suitable subsequent date. To this end, the Partner States shall conclude a protocol to operationalise the extended jurisdiction.” In May 2005, the Council of Ministers issued a Draft Protocol to Operationalise the Extended Jurisdiction of the East African Court of Justice, but the protocol has not yet been approved.

Despite the EACJ’s lack of explicit jurisdiction to hear human rights cases, it has addressed cases involving individual rights. In the case of Katabazi v. Secretary General of the East African Community, the EACJ was petitioned to determine the lawfulness of the detention of Ugandan prisoners. The EACJ conceded that “jurisdiction with respect to human rights requires a determination of the Council and a conclusion of a protocol to that effect. Both of those steps have not been taken. It follows, therefore, that this Court may not adjudicate on disputes concerning violation of human rights per se.” However, the EACJ also determined that “it will not abdicate from exercising its jurisdiction of interpretation under Article 27(1) merely because the reference includes allegation of human rights violation.” While the EACJ did not evaluate the claims within a human rights framework, the Court found that the respondent had violated the principle of the rule of law and consequently contravened the Treaty.

In 2010, the EACJ further decided, in Sitenda Sebalu v. Secretary General of the East African Community et al., that the failure to extend the jurisdiction of the court pursuant to Article 27 violated the applicant’s legitimate expectations that the matter be expedited and contravened the principles of good governance stipulated in Article 6 of the Treaty.

The extension of the Court’s jurisdiction was the focus of the June 2012 meeting of the EAC council of ministers.