News that the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) will soon have powers to hear cases of a criminal nature is very welcome development in the region’s quest for truly people centred integration. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda is still shocking experience while the scars of the 2007 post election violence in Kenya live on.
The recent kidnapping and torture of Dr Steven Ulimboka in Tanzania more than demonstrates that no country is immune to crimes against humanity.
Tanzania has for long enjoyed a reputation of being an Island of Peace in a sea of violence and social strife but if what happened to Dr Ulimboka is anything to go by, then that standing in society is quickly draining down the cesspool of socially troubled states.
Disputes can only be settled by negotiations and not through torture and intimidation.
Throughout history, death and torture have never succeeded to eliminate the disciples of the “martyred” or their graves from being turned into shrines of inspiration for even more determined and hard-line followers.
The majority of the cases to be heard by the EACJ’s criminal wing would involve trials against the excesses of power by political leaders and those they command mostly in the armed forces when the orders are clearly not to enforce the law and defend the people but to mutilate and kill them.
However, according to recent media reports quoting the EACJ’s Registrar, Professor Dr John Eudes Ruhangisa, the court’s establishment faces possible financial hurdles and challenges.
If indeed that turns out to be the case, the people of East Africa would have been let down by non-other than their top leaders, who are the ones who gave the directive for the establishment of the wing.
If our leaders can commit to do something that they are not willing to fund, then the biggest casualty would be the collective integrity of the people. Prof Ruhangisa was further quoted as saying both the Court and East Africa have competent judges who can handle cases involving the transgression of the people’s humanity except that financial resources could be the major stumbling block. I am saying, money should not be a problem.
Those who think violence and chaos are cheap enterprises, then perhaps they don’t have far to look. Burundi, Kenya and Uganda are on peace keeping and restoration of order missions in Somalia while Tanzania has a peace keeping mission in Darfur, Sudan and another contingent in Lebanon.
It would be tragic and largely inconceivable for the member states of the region to be in peace keeping missions abroad while their own house back home burns up!
Apart from the money, the court would also need very zealous prosecutors. Luckily again, the region has seen how meticulous the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was and also how determined Mr Moreno Ocampo was in pursuing the suspects of the post election violence in Kenya.
If anything, the region has seen the standards and there can be no excuse for mediocrity. East Africa needed a court with criminal jurisdiction yesterday.
There is a reason for everything that happens under the sun. That it is our leaders, who directed the court be established, goes a long way to show how ready and willing they are to shed a bit of their absolute powers for the broader benefit of East Africans.
There can be no doubt that regional criminal trials would chisel away considerable aspects of national sovereignty, powers jealously guarded by many nations.
But, in this case, it is upholding the rights of the people over the sometimes narrow interests of the state. That is why I say a criminal wing of the EACJ is the right direction towards truly people-centred integration.