A Ugandan lawyer has filed a suit with the East African Court of Justice seeking to block the admission of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into the East African Community (EAC).
Mr Adam Kyomuhendo, an advocate of the High Court of Uganda, filed the suit before the First Instance Division of the regional court against the EAC secretary general and attorney generals of all the partner states.
Mr Kyomuhendo is seeking court orders to restrain the admission of DRC into the six-nation bloc by the EAC Heads of State over the detention of a Ugandan activist.
He wants the admission stayed until hearing and determination of the case. The court will fix the matter for hearing in the next session.
The suit alleges that the DRC is illegally and without due trial or process holding Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party activist Sam Mugumya, who arrested in 2014, and more than 35 other Ugandans.
Mr Kyomuhendo also alleges that Ugandan nationals have been held in the DRC for more than six years now, contrary to human rights laws and the EAC Treaty.
He argues that admitting DRC into the Community, in light of these fundamental human rights breaches, would be to flagrantly violate the EAC Treaty.
The treaty stipulates that as a pre-condition for admission into the bloc, the Summit must verify and ascertain that such new members adhere to the universally accepted principles of good governance, democracy and the rule of law. Other requirements are social justice and observance of human rights under the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
According to a notice issued by Amnesty International in 2014 shortly after his arrest, the Ugandan government had accused Mugumya of planning a rebellion against it, with the rights group raising concern that he was at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Amnesty had asked the authorities to ensure that Mugumya is either charged in a court of law or released.
Mugumya was arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014, together with Aggrey Kamukama, Steven Mugisha, Nathan Bright and Joseph Kamugisha. At the time, he was said to be held at Ndolo Military Prison.
At the time, the government said Mugumya was engaged in subversive activities and was arrested with dollars and sensitive documents.
Then Ugandan State minister for Foreign Affairs, Henry Oryem Okello, told Parliament in 2016 that due to lack of an extradition treaty between Uganda and DRC, Mugumya would not be brought back.
Recently, the EAC announced that a verification team to assess DRC's admission into the bloc will soon be dispatched to Kinshasa and has budgeted $188,000 for the exercise.
The mission, which comprises three experts from each of the six partner states, will conduct the exercise from June 23 to July 3. Its findings will be discussed at various levels and forwarded to the EAC Heads of State.
The verification mission will, among other things, review the current status of the DRC with regards to international law. It will also establish the country’s level of conformity with the criteria for admission of ‘foreign’ countries as provided in the EAC Treaty.
If admitted, the resource-rich long time trade partner will become the seventh member State of the EAC.
Only last week, President Yoweri Museveni and his DRC counterpart Felix Tshisekedi launched the Mpondwe Bridge in Kasese District, which links Uganda to DRC. The two Heads of State also commissioned a joint construction project of major road infrastructure that links the two countries and is aimed at boosting trade between them.
Report by Zephania Ubwani