Test case on suits against UN agencies

Test case on suits against UN agencies

Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter—
THE Supreme Court is set to rule on whether United Nations agents like the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) can be sued in Zimbabwean courts or have their bank accounts garnished in execution of court orders. Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengengwi, who recently got a nod to contest out of time the High Court judgment exposing FAO to labour suits, has filed fresh appeal papers at the Supreme Court to save the international organisation.

Minister Mumbengegwi, on behalf of the Government of Zimbabwe, argues that FAO, in terms of the agreements between UN and Zimbabwe, enjoys absolute immunity from every form of legal process and from execution.

The issue was sparked by a former FAO employee, Mr Michael Jenrich, who successfully sued the organisation at the Labour Court and was awarded arrear salaries and damages to the tune of $634 000.

Former High Court judge Justice Tendai Uchena last year ruled that FAO, like any other international organisations and foreign States, only enjoys restrictive immunity which does not include immunity against labour suits.

Government, through Minister Mumbengegwi, then filed an appeal which was removed from the roll due to some defects. Advocate Lewis Uriri, instructed by the Attorney-General’s Office, is representing Government in the case.

Venturas and Samukange law firm acted for former FAO employee Mr Jenrich. Supreme Court judge Justice Bharat Patel on February 16 this year, granted Government leave to file its fresh notice of appeal out of time.

This resulted in the resuscitation of the challenge. The Supreme Court will now hear the matter on the merit and make a pronouncement on whether FAO and other UN agents should be sued.

Mr Jenrich, two years ago, obtained a court order to garnish the FAO’s bank account to recover his outstanding salary of $623 400. He was granted the garnishee order in 2014 by the Labour Court after he successfully took his former employers to court over outstanding salary payments.

However, Minister Mumbengegwi was not impressed with the move and approached the Supreme Court last November to save FAO’s account from being garnished. The minister’s application, however, was struck off the roll on the basis that his notice of appeal was defective.

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