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Tanzania bars citizens from seeking justice at the African Court

January 08th, 2020
topic:Good Governance
by:Cyril Zenda
located in:Tanzania
tags:African Court, Tanzania

The Government of Tanzania in early December withdrew the right of individual citizens and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to directly approach the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, a continental court based in the east African country’s city of Arusha, in pursuit of justice.

The development comes as human rights organisations increasingly express grave concerns over the growing repression by the government of President John Magufuli.

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights is a continental court established by African countries to ensure the protection of rights. The Court has jurisdiction over all cases and disputes submitted to it concerning the interpretation and application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and any other relevant human rights instruments ratified by the states concerned.

Taking advantage of the fact that the court is based in their country, many Tanzanian citizens and NGOs that felt that some rights had been violated by their government have sought redress at this continental court. In most of the cases the court has ruled against the host government, something that irked the Tanzanian government, prompting it to seek to put a stop to this trend by withdrawing the rights of individuals and NGOs to having direct access to the court.

Amnesty International bemoaned the development, which comes at a time when the international human rights watchdog has been raising a red-flag over the conduct of the Magufuli administration, whose justice system it says is “flawed”.

“This is yet more evidence of the government of Tanzania’s growing hostility towards human rights and human rights defenders”, said Japhet Biegon, Amnesty International’s Africa Advocacy Coordinator.

“This move effectively blocks individuals and NGOs in the country from directly going to the court to seek redress for human rights violations in what is clearly a cynical attempt to evade accountability.

“It undermines the authority and legitimacy of the African Court and is an outright betrayal of efforts in Africa to establish strong and credible regional human rights bodies that can deliver justice and accountability.” 

Tanzania’s move follows that of neighbouring Rwanda, which has also withdrawn the right of individuals and NGOs to directly access the African Court, that is seen as a vital continental judicial body in the face of state interference in national justice systems.

Tanzania has the highest number of cases filed by individuals and NGOs as well as judgements issued against it by the African Court. Out of the 70 rulings made by the court by the end of September 2019, a total of 28 decisions, or 40 percent, were on Tanzania. In addition to this, a majority of the cases still pending before the African Court are also against Tanzania, most of them on alleged violations of the right to fair trial, something that Amnesty International says points “to a systemic problem in the Tanzanian justice system”.

For example, in a judgement issued on November 28, the African Court quashed a 2011 death sentence imposed on Ally Rajabu and his four colleagues, who had been convicted of a 2006 murder case. The Court held that the mandatory death sentence for murder in Section 197 of the Tanzanian Penal Code constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, and therefore that the Respondent State has violated Article 4 and 5 of the African Charter that pertains to the right to life and the right to dignity respectively.

Tanzania is one of the few African countries that still impose the death penalty although nobody has been executed since 1994. There are more than 500 prisoners on the death roll in Tanzania.

In October, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International jointly released two separate reports whose findings both concluded that Tanzania’s repression of the media, human rights defenders and opposition parties has intensified since 2015.

The reports found that President Magufuli’s government has adopted or enforced a raft of repressive laws that stifle independent journalism and severely restrict the activities of NGOs and the political opposition.

“As President Magufuli marks four years in office next month (November), he must carefully reflect on his government’s record of ruthlessly disembowelling the country’s human rights framework. His government must repeal all oppressive laws being used to clamp down on dissent, and urgently end human rights violations and abuses”, said Roland Ebole, Amnesty International’s Tanzania researcher.

“The regressive policies and actions of the authorities have stifled the media, sown fear among civil society, and restricted the playing field for political parties in the lead-up to elections”, said Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “With only a year to go, this government needs to reverse these patterns of abuses and demonstrate a genuine commitment to the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly as protected in the constitution and under human rights treaties to which Tanzania is a state party.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 80 journalists, bloggers, lawyers, representatives of NGOs, and members of political parties. Amnesty International interviewed 68 government officials, representatives of NGOs and inter-governmental groups, lawyers, academics, religious leaders, and diplomats, and reviewed court decisions, national laws, government notices and orders.

They found that the president and senior government officials frequently made anti-human rights statements, at times followed by cracking down on individuals and organisations. The remarks, coupled with arbitrary arrests and threats to de-register non-governmental groups, has stifled independent reporting by journalists and public discussions on human rights violations in the country.

Both organisations found that Tanzanian authorities undermined the rights to freedom of expression and association by enforcing new and existing repressive laws and regulations governing media, NGOs, and political parties.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
Tanzania
The Government withdrew the right of individual citizens and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to directly approach the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights is a continental court established by African countries to ensure the protection of rights.
There are more than 500 prisoners on the death roll in Tanzania.