Tanzania’s appeal to block a case against the construction of a highway across the Serengeti National Park was dismissed on Thursday by the East African Court of Justice.
The Appellate Division of the regional court ruled that EACJ has full jurisdiction to hear the case because the park was part of the transnational ecosystem straddling Kenya and Tanzania.
Reading the ruling at the court chambers on Moshi Road, judge James Ogola said matters pertaining to environmental conservation cut across nation states and are included in the EAC Treaty.
“The court has jurisdiction to hear environment disputes which directly affect the ecosystem and touch on the sustainable utilisation of the natural resources, including terrestrial ecosystems,” he said.
The ruling comes after the attorney-general of Tanzania had objected to the hearing of a case which was filed by a Nairobi-based non-governmental organisation in December 2010 against the tarmac road project across the northern fringes of the park.
The case was filed by the African Network for Animal Welfare (Anaw) through Kanchory and Co Advocates of Nairobi and was set to be heard at the First Instance Division of EACJ before Tanzania’s objection last year.
Through the AG, Tanzania argued that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the case under Article 27 of the EAC Treaty on grounds that it was a matter of a sovereign nature, not falling under the EAC protocols.
The AG further argued in the preliminary objection that any legal dispute on the Serengeti National Park should be handled by the country’s courts as the park was within Tanzania’s borders and managed locally.
But the Appellate Division of the Court on Thursday upheld the dismissal of the objection on grounds that the court not only has jurisdiction on the case but also on grounds that the objections filed were not proper.
Judge Ogola said he was dismissing the six objections raised by the Tanzania Government because the court was convinced it has full mandate to hear the dispute that pits various interest groups in the two EAC member states.
It took about one-and-a-half hours for the ruling to be read during a court session presided over by the EACJ president, Justice Harold Nsekela, and other judges. Present were EACJ staff, lawyers and media representatives from across the region.
An earlier suit by the Anaw contested Tanzania’s intention to build a “super highway” crossing the Serengeti, with the Nairobi-based organisation arguing that it would be hazardous to animals.
After Thursday’s ruling, the EACJ registrar Dr John Ruhangisa, told reporters that hearing of the main case would start any time, arguing that the controversial road project is no longer a sovereign matter but touches the EA region.
“This is a regional issue and an eye-opener to activists and conservation experts to come out and vindicate issues of environmental abuse in the region,” he said.