Striking a Balance between Community Norms and Human Rights: The Continuing Struggle of the East African Court of Justice

The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) finds itself in a difficult position, which this article exposes to a certain extent. The Court is barred as such from deciding on matters being faced with, that contains human rights allegations. The EACJ is often called upon to draw a line between what might constitute a human rights case and a claim relating to an East African Community (EAC) norm which is not barred under article 27(2) of the East African Community Treaty. The EACJ, the main judicial mechanism of the EAC, is primarily mandated to interpret and apply EAC law, of which human rights form part. Despite the existing limitations, the EACJ has clearly laid down its position that it cannot ‘abdicate’ exercising its interpretive mandate, even if a matter before it contains allegations of human rights violations. In doing so, the EACJ has indirectly protected human rights in the EAC through other forms of cause of actions, such as the rule of law and good governance. This contribution advances two key arguments: First, the EAC Treaty contains human rights norms that the EACJ cannot escape from interpreting. Second, due to the continuing restrictions in adjudicating human rights, as well as the existing human rights norms in the EAC Treaty, the EACJ is trapped in precarious attempts to balance the advancing of EAC norms, on the one hand, and adhering to the Treaty restrictions in adjudicating human rights, on the other.