The governments of Uganda and Rwanda have been sued over what the civil society described as the “arbitrary closure” of the two neighbouring countries’ common border.
The suit was this past week filed at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) by three civil society organisations – East African sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women, Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATIN-Uganda), and Centre for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT).
The Gatuna border post was on February 27 closed by Rwandan authorities in the wake of tense relations with Uganda.
Rwanda said it shut the border to pave way for construction works on the One Stop Border Post (OSBP).
Other border posts remained open but Ugandan goods were locked out of the Rwandan market.
In other instances, tariffs on Ugandan goods were raised, making bilateral trade almost impossible.
Rwanda President Paul Kagame would later blame the “bad politics” and arrests of Rwandan citizens in Uganda for the border closure.
The civil society groups now say Attorney Generals of Uganda and Rwanda have been served the suit to prepare their defence.
The activists say the border closure is in “contravention of the Treaty for the establishment of the EAC and Common market Protocol.”
At least 400 statements from the affected citizens have since been taken from affected citizens of both countries to support the case.
The civil society groups demanded that the EACJ “pronounces itself on the continued impunity and arbitrary closure,” adding, “the court should declare that this impunity must not be allowed anywhere else within EAC.”
They also want a permanent injunction against the governments of Rwanda and Uganda to “never close border posts between themselves and ensure free movement of persons and trade facilitation.”
The suit also is aimed ensuring the “losses incurred” by the business community and the society at large are “audited” and the concerned parties are “adequately compensated.”
The closure of the border has sparked an acute shortage of basic commodities and food in many parts of Rwanda.
Food prices in Rwanda have skyrocketed, fuelling smuggling along the border.
In Uganda, hundreds of businessmen who thrived on the cross border trade are counting losses.
The civil society now says the Women Cross Border Traders who are recognised in the EAC treaty by partner states as a vital economic link between agriculture, industry and trade are now plunged into absolute poverty due to the border closure.
“The Women Cross Border Traders in Katuna and Cyanika have been forced to run away from their homes for fear of being arrested by financial institutions that gave them loans to run their businesses prior to the closure of the border,” reads the statement from the civil society groups.
“The closure of the border has had far reaching effects on the lives and livelihoods of the business community and has caused social and emotional distress among the local people, anguish and dislocation of families, death among others.”
The affected persons include traders, transporters, landlords, clearing agents, school owners, restaurants, lodging services etc.
Kabale district chairperson, Patrick Besigye says “heavy deployment of soldiers across the Rwanda border has caused people to live in constant fear and uncertainty on the possibility of escalating hostilities between the two countries.”