THE African Court on Human and People’s Rights has ordered the government of Rwanda to reinstate passports of its citizens living in South Africa unlawfully revoked without their notification.
Justices of the Court ruled in favour of Kennedy Gihana, Kayumba Nyamwasa, Bamporiki Seif, Frank Ntwali , Safari Stanley, Dr Etienne Mutabazi and Epimaque Ntamushobora, the applicants, and directed the Republic of Rwanda, as the respondent state, to comply with the order within three months.
During hearing, the applicants alleged that the respondent state had since May 14, 2012 invalidated their passports without officially notifying them or be given an opportunity to appeal against the government’s decision to cancel them.
They said the invalidation of their passports was arbitrary deprivation of their nationality, thus, rendering them stateless and significantly impacted on the enjoyment of a number of their universally accepted fundamental human rights.
Such rights include participation in political life, freedom of movement, citizenship, liberty, family life and work, which are protected under Articles 6, 12, 13 and 18 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The applicants prayed for reparation orders, like reinstatement of the passports and compensation.
The respondent state, however, challenged the applicants, arguing that Nyamwasa and Stanley lacked standing before the Court because they were convicted in Rwanda of genocide-related crimes and those of threatening state security, respectively.
While acknowledging that it made a declaration pursuant to Article 34(6) of the Protocol, the respondent state argued that in doing so, it did not envisage that persons convicted of serious crimes such as those two applicants would be allowed to file matters before the Court.
In its judgment, the Court held that Article 5(3) of the Protocol, read together with Article 34(6) thereof, provides for access to the Court for individuals regardless of their status and the nature of the crimes they were alleged to have committed or to have been convicted of.
On merits, the Court found the alleged violation of the rights to liberty, work and family life under Article 15 have not been established, but the respondent state violated the rights to freedom of movement and political participation as a consequence of arbitrarily revocation of applicants’ passports.
Deliberating on the matter, the Court noted that the applicants’ allegation relating to the revocation of their passports raised two issues, which included whether the revocation of their passports was arbitrary and if so, was it tantamount to revocation of their nationality.
The justices also considered whether the applicants’ rights to freedom of movement, political participation, liberty, family life and work were violated as a consequence of the arbitrary revocation of their passports.
On whether the revocation of the applicants’ passports was arbitrary, the Court noted that the respondent state had not provided proof that its action in this regard was based on the applicants’ use of the passports in an inappropriate manner, as per Rwanda’s law on Immigration and Emigration.