THE EAST AFRICAN COURT OF JUSTICE AWAITS YOUR CASES, CONSERVATIONISTS TOLD
East Africas conservation and environmental groups found reasons to smile broadly earlier in the week when it became public knowledge that the Registrar of the East African Court of Justice in Arusha had not minced words when encouraging NGOs and individuals who have issues with the way their national governments treat the environment and disrespect their own legislations and environmental regulations to come to Arusha and file legal cases there. This follows an appellate division decision that the court had every right to take on such cases, following complaints by the Tanzanian government seeking to question the jurisdiction of the EACJ.
The situation arose when national courts proved woefully inadequate, if not outright unwilling to take on a controversial case from environmentalists over plans to build a highway across the Serengeti, prompting a case to be filed in Arusha at the East African Court of Justice, which is now going to have a full hearing on the merit of the suit. It is expected that other groups will now seek justice for their causes too, as for instance the residents of an area earmarked for a port expansion near Tanga, at the very location of the Coelacanth habitat a marine national park in fact are being reportedly bulldozed aside with the national courts again at least giving the appearance of being an appendix of the powers that be, while law firms too were reported, on national level, to have refused to take on the victims cases. It also gives hope to groups from across East Africa, to challenge their own governments over such issues as the Mabira Forest give away, the lack of progress in restoring the Mau Forest in Kenya or plans for Uranium mining in the Selous, the construction of a soda ash factory in the sole breeding ground of the flamingos at Lake Natron or the proposed damming of Stieglers Gorge, also in the Selous.
With the exception of the Rwandan government, which appears true to their commitment towards environmental protection and conservation, all other member states within the EAC have a chequered track record on environmental performance and the respective national watchdogs often lack teeth to enforce national laws, something which is now open to judicial reviews when cases are brought in Arusha.
There has been a flurry of activities in recent days as a result of the open invitation to come to the EACJ, with pressure groups, environmental NGOs and the conservation fraternity at large weighing their options to get justice for nature in Arusha, which back home under their national judiciaries would very likely not be forthcoming. For the time being, all eyes will be focused on the upcoming case of ANAW, a Kenyan based group, against the Tanzanian government to permanently stop them from interfering with the Serengetis integrity and put an end to any and all plans to build a highway across the migration routes, which could within a few years decimate the spectacular numbers of wildebeest to a mere fraction of their present size. Once that case goes underway, be sure to read about the respective arguments made before court and read all about the verdict when it is handed down. Watch this space.