Rwanda government wins longstanding court feud with sacked employee

Wednesday May 16 2018

The Arusha-based African Court on Human and

The Arusha-based African Court on Human and People’s Rights has dismissed a case filed by a former Rwanda's Ministry of Finance employee. PHOTO | FILE 

By IVAN R. MUGISHA
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After a four-year legal battle at the African Court on Human and People’s Rights in Arusha, Tanzania, a case filed by a disgruntled worker against his former employer, the Rwandan government, has been dismissed.

Mr Chrysanthe Rutabingwa had sued the government for unlawful dismissal and was seeking to get his job back and $1 million in damages.

Mr Rutabingwa had worked at the Ministry of Finance as an auditor and evaluations expert for one year before he was fired in 2001 for allegedly disclosing confidential documents.

He sued the government at a Kigali court two years later but was unsuccessful. The court, however, ruled that he be compensated a sum of Rwf2.5 million (about $5,000 at the time).

He rejected the ruling and appealed to the high court. His appeal was declared inadmissible.

The two parties tried to settle the matter out of court but fell through.

More than ten years later, in November 2014, Mr Rutabingwa moved to the Arusha-based African Court.

Here, he told the court that the loss of the job had forced him to sell his house to meet his needs and wanted the government ordered to provide housing for him.

However, the government – represented by principal state attorney Epimaque Rubango Kayihura – told the court that his claims were baseless and that he was in contempt of Rwandan laws for failing to appeal to the Supreme Court before running to Arusha.

“The requirement of exhausting local remedies is a general principle founded on the conviction that a state must be given the possibility to repair the violations of its obligations in matters of human rights through internal mechanisms prior to such violations being brought before an international body,” Mr Rubango said.

Judge Gerard Niyungeko of the African Court dismissed the case saying it was invalid.

“The Court notes that admissibility conditions are cumulative, and as such, where any one of them has not been met, it is the entire application that cannot stand. This is the case with the present matter. The application by Mr Rutabingwa is consequently inadmissible,” judge Niyungeko ruled.

The court also ruled that all parties bear their own costs against a plea by the government that Mr Rutabingwa pays all the costs.

Withdrawal

Rwanda has a short chequered history with the African Court.

In November 2016, the country submitted its withdrawal from the court’s declaration that allows individuals and civil society organisations to file lawsuits against the government, arguing that it was being exploited by genocide fugitives and deniers.

Rwanda had ratified and deposited the declaration just a little over three years earlier.

The move was met with criticism by human rights groups in the region and globally who viewed the decision as a drawback on rights protection.

In March 2017, the withdrawal took effect with only cases that were already before the court allowed to proceed.

The court has so far heard and ruled on four lawsuits against the Rwandan government and is yet to determine six others.

Some of the high profile cases that have been before the court are those by jailed politician and government critic, Victoire Ingabire; genocide convict Leon Mugesera; and Kayumba Nyamwasa, Rwanda’s former army chief of staff who is exiled in South Africa.