East African Court of Justice, Arusha, Tanzania, 19th June, 2018: The East African Court of Justice, First Instance Division on 19th June 2018 delivered Judgment in the matter between Grand Lacs Suppliers S.A.R.L & Others versus the Attorney General of the Republic of Burundi (Reference No. 6 of 2016).
It was the Applicants’ case that the Respondent (the Attorney General of the Republic of Burundi) unlawfully seized their goods on 30th July, 2016 in violation of the fundamental principles and objectives of the Treaty for the Establishment of the EAC and the Protocols on Customs Union and Common Market in that the seizure hinders the free movement of goods by Partner States’ nationals across their borders.
The Applicants therefore sought for orders against the Respondent to the effect that: the decision taken by the Respondent on 30th July, 2016 was in violation of the EAC Treaty, the Common Market and Customs Union Protocols. They further prayed for an order compelling the Respondent to pay them an amount of US$218,849 in compensation for losses on truck hire, profits, investments and earnings. The Applicants also prayed for general damages with interest for the unlawful seizure of goods, breach and violation of EAC Treaty, Customs Union and Common Market Protocols, wrongful deprivation/denial of property and inconvenience to and hampering of Partner States’ nationals’ business, trade and economic activity as well as costs incidental to the Reference.
The Court, in its Judgment, found the Reference was filed within the time period prescribed by Article 30(2) of the Treaty. It further found that, if an offense against the customs laws had been committed, at least a notification would have been made to the Applicants for them to eventually present their defence and more importantly, the Burundi Revenue Authority would not have given the Applicants green light that they had complied with all the legal requirements for goods in transit. Moreover, nowhere did the 1st Respondent contest the sanctioning of the deviation from the original itinerary by the Burundi Revenue Authority. The Respondent also didn’t show how the said deviation hampered its security.
The Court therefore ruled that the decision of seizing the Applicants’ goods without due process runs afoul of the principle of the rule of law stipulated in Articles 6(d) and 7(2) of the Treaty. Further, the Court stated it is a well-established rule of international law that the conduct of any organ of State must be regarded as an act of that State. In light of the foregoing, the Government of Burundi is held responsible for the unlawful seizure of the Applicants’ goods by its agents, and consequently, it is liable for the violation of Articles 6(d) and 7(2) of the Treaty.
No finding is made by the Court as regards the Applicants’ prayers to declare that the decision to seize their goods by the Respondent through its organs was a violation of the EAC Customs Union and Common Market Protocols as the Applicants had not made any pleadings on this issue.
With regard to the special damages for the amount of $US218,849 claimed by the Applicants in compensation for losses on truck hire, profits, investments and earnings, the Court could not award as it was unable to assess their quantum.
In exercising its judicial discretion in light of the facts and the circumstances of the instant case, the Court awarded the Applicants an amount equivalent to US$20,000) as general damages at an interest rate of six (6) per cent per annum from the date of the judgment until payment in full. The Court also ordered the Respondent to pay the costs of the Reference to the Applicants.
The Judgment was delivered by the following Honourable Judges: Lady Justice Monica Mugenyi (Principal Judge), Mr Justice Isaac Lenaola (Deputy Principal Judge), Justice Dr. Faustin Ntezilyayo, Mr. Justice Fakihi A. Jundu and Justice Dr Charles O. Nyawello.