MAY 6, 2016
Thanks to the efforts of Rwanda’s Ombudsman and clear-thinking judges, Jehovah’s Witnesses received justice after a long legal battle. The Supreme Court initially ruled against the Witnesses and ordered them to pay compensation to the owners of a building that Kigali city officials had ordered to be demolished. However, the Ombudsman saw a clear injustice and asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its judgment.
Kigali City Officials Order a Cleanup
As part of a far-reaching cleanup initiative, Kigali city officials issued an order in 2006 for residents to remove all street kiosks built on public land. This same order obligated residents to maintain and beautify the public areas surrounding their property.
The order also required the removal of illegally constructed buildings. This included a building that Mr. Ngayabateranya had constructed on public land without permits. In addition, he used materials and construction methods that did not comply with building regulations. When the 21-day compliance period expired without action, the Gasabo District mayor issued a written order to demolish the illegally constructed buildings. With the buildings removed, the national office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, also located in the Gasabo District, Remera Sector of Kigali, beautified the public area near its facility by laying a walkway and planting a garden.
Intermediate Court Holds the Witnesses Responsible
After city officials had Mr. Ngayabateranya’s building demolished, he and his associates filed complaints in the Intermediate Court of Gasabo, accusing the Witnesses of destroying the building. Mr. Ngayabateranya and associates maintained that they were entitled to compensation for the demolished building, though they failed to provide the court with any valid evidence to support their claims. Jehovah’s Witnesses provided official documentation clearly proving that city officials were responsible for the action. Nevertheless, the intermediate court ignored the evidence and ruled against the Witnesses.
High Court Reverses Decision
The Witnesses appealed to the high court to remedy the obvious injustice. After reviewing the evidence, the high court determined that there was no sound basis for the intermediate court’s decision against the Witnesses. On November 5, 2010, the high court determined that Mr. Ngayabateranya and associates had filed a frivolous lawsuit and ordered them to pay damages and costs of 800,000 Rwandan francs ($1,360 U.S.).
Supreme Court Misses Vital Evidence
Mr. Ngayabateranya appealed the decision to Rwanda’s Supreme Court. During the proceedings, Remera Sector’s Executive Secretary testified that Mr. Ngayabateranya’s building was illegally constructed and therefore demolished as part of a State program for restructuring the city. The Supreme Court acknowledged that Jehovah’s Witnesses did not, in fact, demolish the building. However, the Court concluded that the Witnesses instigated its demolition. The Court overlooked significant evidence and then reasoned that the Witnesses unjustly benefited because they landscaped the area where the building once stood. The Court awarded the complainants 22,055,242 Rwandan francs (over $33,000 U.S.) in damages. The Witnesses paid the damages under protest on April 4, 2013.
Ombudsman Urges Supreme Court to Remedy Injustice
Jehovah’s Witnesses submitted a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman because they had been falsely accused and unfairly held responsible for the demolition of Mr. Ngayabateranya’s building. Rwanda’s Chief Ombudsman, Mrs. Aloysie Cyanzayire, reviewed the complaint and the Supreme Court’s decision.
After examining the evidence, Mrs. Cyanzayire established that the city demolished the building because Mr. Ngayabateranya had failed to comply with Rwandan law. She also affirmed that there was no reason to punish the Witnesses for supporting the city’s directive to beautify the adjoining public land.The Witnesses’ improvement and continued maintenance of the land was a “helpful achievement” and “a noteworthy support given to the State in its program of cleaning the city.”
On December 4, 2013, Mrs. Cyanzayire requested that the Supreme Court review its judgment against Jehovah’s Witnesses. A new panel of judges heard the case, and on October 17, 2014, the Court reversed itself, finding Mr. Ngayabateranya’s claim to be unfounded. It ordered Mr. Ngayabateranya to return the money he had unjustly received under the prior judgment and to pay legal fees. Attorneys representing Jehovah’s Witnesses and a bailiff are currently working to recover these funds.
Protection Under the Law
Jehovah’s Witnesses graciously acknowledge the help of Mrs. Cyanzayire in her role as Ombudsman, and they are grateful to the Supreme Court for its reversal. No doubt all law-abiding citizens appreciate that the Republic of Rwanda has an effective mechanism to remedy injustice and uphold the rule of law.