Human rights activists raised an alarm on Wednesday over Tanzania’s plans to block individuals and NGOs from directly filing cases against the government to the African rights court.
In an official notice published earlier this month, the government said it was withdrawing from a protocol allowing this, adding it had been implemented “contrary to the reservations” submitted by Tanzania.
Rights groups charge that under President John Magufuli, there has been an erosion of freedoms and a crackdown on rights defenders, the press and opposition.
“There have been negative reports about Tanzania’s human rights status and now this decision may be interpreted as a way of escaping from rectifying the situation,” Onesmo Ole Ngurumwa, coordinator of Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), said at a press conference.
Anna Henga of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) said at the same press conference that “the decision blocks Tanzanians from accessing justice from the Arusha-based court”.
The court has been fully operational since 2010, with judges from across the African Union working on rights cases. Only eight countries have ratified the protocol allowing NGOs and individuals to file suits against governments.
Rwanda withdrew from the protocol in 2016.
According to Amnesty International, Tanzania has the highest number of cases filed by individuals and NGOs in the African Court. Out of 70 judgments issued by September 2019, 28 decisions are on Tanzania.
Amnesty said in a statement on Monday that Tanzania’s withdrawal would deepen repression.
“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.
“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.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations human rights office urged the East African country to reconsider its decision.
“We regret decision by Tanzania Govt [government] to block individuals and NGOs from taking cases to African Court on Human & Peoples’ Rights,” the UN agency said in a tweet on Tuesday.
“We urge Govt to reconsider. The Court is crucial for justice & accountability in Tanzania,” the agency added.
We regret decision by Tanzania Govt to block individuals and NGOs from taking cases to African Court on Human & Peoples’ Rights. We urge Govt to reconsider. The Court is crucial for justice & accountability in Tanzania.
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) December 3, 2019