Supreme Court in test case on suits against UN agencies

Harare Bureau
THE Supreme Court is set to rule on whether United Nations agencies like the Food and Agriculture Organisation can be sued in Zimbabwean courts or have their bank accounts garnished in execution of court orders.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, 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 Michael Jenrich who successfully sued the organisation at the Labour Court and was awarded salary arrears 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.

The 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 the government in the case while Venturas and Samukange law firm acted for former FAO employee Jenrich.

Supreme Court judge Justice Bharat Patel on February 16 this year, granted the government leave to file its fresh notice of appeal out of time, resulting 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 could be sued.

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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