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Uganda: Judges' Strike Takes Effect Monday

Uganda could become the wild west of Africa as all courts in the country plan to suspend judicial business Monday to protest what the justices called the constant threats and attacks on the safety and independence of the judiciary. The judges’ decision to go on strike came about when police and military officers raided the premises of the Kampala High Court last Thursday to re-arrest six suspects who had been granted bail by the court.

Amama Mbabazi is Uganda’s minister in charge of security. He said the judges would be abdicating their constitutional duties if they went ahead with their strike action.

“This is unprecedented; it’s unheard of in any country that the judiciary goes on strike because the judiciary is an arm of government like the legislature. You see there are some constitutional requirements where certain things must be done, and they can only be done by the judiciary. Now if they go on strike, who’s responsible for breaches of the law, of the constitution particularly? So it’s unprecedented and we think it’s unwarranted,” he said.

Mbabazi said although judges are professional people who may have grievances at times, they are not trade unions and therefore cannot go on strike.

“Judges are not trade unions. You see, trade unions demand or go on strike for wages or terms of service or things like that. But in this case, the judiciary has a duty which is owed to our country to be there all the time, to adjudicate matters which have been brought before them, to maintain this idea of rule and order in the society, and it would be an abdication of that responsibility if they were to go on strike,” Mbabazi said.

Last Thursday’s raid on the court by security forces was the second in a little over a year. But Mbabazi said this does not mean that the executive arm of government has not complied with the orders of the judiciary.

“I think what people have been talking about…they have been talking about the executive arm not complying with the orders of the judiciary. But this is not true. There is no serious order that the executive arm has not complied with. At any rate, you know the procedure, when they take a decision which we do not agree, we appeal against that decision to a higher court,” he said.

Mbabazi also said the government did not violate the rule of law by re-arresting the suspects even after they had been granted bail by the court.

“First of all, the government accepts the court’s decision to grant them bail. However, the arrest of these particular individuals, who incidentally are charged with treason, and acts of terrorism and therefore are a danger to society generally, what happened is that there was another charge against them...If there are many charges against you, it’s possible for you to get bail on one but not in another,” Mbabazi said.

He hoped the judges would reconsider their decision to go on strike Monday.