EU 'deeply concerned' over rights situation in Tanzania

The European Union's ambassador to Tanzania was forced to leave the country after facing government pressure, bloc says.

    'Over the past years, the European Union and its member states have noticed a shrinking of public space in Tanzania' - statement by the EU's Mogherini [File: Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters]
    'Over the past years, the European Union and its member states have noticed a shrinking of public space in Tanzania' - statement by the EU's Mogherini [File: Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters]

    The European Union says it is launching a comprehensive review of its policies towards Tanzania after government pressure forced the bloc's ambassador to leave the country.

    The EU announced on Thursday it would resume dialogue with Tanzanian authorities once the review was complete and called on the authorities "to refrain from exerting undue pressure and limitations on diplomatic missions". 

    In a statement from EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, the member states said they were concerned about recent political developments in Tanzania, citing restrictions on the media and political parties, as well as threats against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals

    "Over the past years, the European Union and its member states have noticed a shrinking of public space in Tanzania through the tightening of restrictions on the activities of civil society organisations, the media and many political parties. 

    "Respect for human rights and the rule of law has been repeatedly undermined," the statement said, adding that the EU is "deeply concerned" about what it calls the "deteriorating situation" for LGBTI people.

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    The bloc said its ambassador was forced to leave the country in early November following pressure from the Tanzanian government.

    "This unprecedented attitude is not in line with the long established dialogue and consultation between the two parties, which the EU deeply regrets," the statement read. 

    The EU is Tanzania's main development partner and one of the country's top trade and investment partners, according to the statement, which said that "structured political dialogue" with the country's government would resume after the review is completed.

    'Totally unacceptable homophobic statements'

    Thursday's announcement comes a day after Denmark, an EU member, said it would withhold a large percentage of the aid money it gives to Tanzania amid human rights concerns.

    "Very concerned about the negative development in Tanzania. Most recently, the totally unacceptable homophobic statements by a commissioner. I have therefore decided to withhold 65m kroner ($9.8m) from the country. Respect for human rights is absolutely essential for [Denmark]," Development Minister Ulla Tornaes said on Twitter on Wednesday.

    She has also postponed a planned trip to Tanzania, according to Danish broadcaster DR. 

    The decision by Denmark, Tanzania's second largest aid donor, came as the World Bank said it had scrapped a plan to loan the East African nation $300m after the country reaffirmed its policy of banning pregnant girls from school and made it a crime to question official statistics.

    Editor's note: See in-text translation above

    In October, Paul Makonda, the commissioner for Tanzania's commercial centre, Dar es Salaam, urged the public to report suspected gay men to the police and said he would establish a surveillance squad to identify homosexuals.

    The country's government said at the time that Makonda's comments did not reflect official policy, which it said would "continue to respect and uphold all human rights as provided for in the country's constitution".

    However, homosexuality is illegal in the country, where it is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. 

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    Last year, Hamisi Kigwangalla, the country's deputy health minister, defended a threat to publish a list of names of suspected homosexuals.

    The minister, who is a trained doctor, said that homosexuality was a social construct engendered by an urban lifestyle.

    In early November, 10 men were arrested on the island of Zanzibar after authorities received a tip-off from the public.

    According to Amnesty International, the men were arrested for allegedly conducting a gay marriage, with police saying they found the men sitting in pairs "two by two".

    The Tanzanian government had not responded to the EU or Danish decision by the time of publication.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies