The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), through the Country Rapporteur for the United Republic of Tanzania, Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Commissioner Jamesina King, and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa, Commissioner Rémy Ngoy Lumbu, is following the situation in the United Republic of Tanzania relating to recent developments affecting various areas of human and peoples’ rights in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the lead-up to the 2020 national elections.
The Commission is concerned by the amendment of the Basic Rights and Duties (Enforcement) Act (Cap. 3 of the Revised Laws of Tanzania) in June 2020, which restricts the filing of cases before Tanzanian courts in the interest of the public. This goes against the progressive constitutional right of every person to take legal action to ensure the protection of the Constitution and the laws of the land.
The African Commission’s Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa of 2000, stipulate that States must ensure that any individual, group of individuals or nongovernmental organization is entitled to bring a human right claim before a judicial body for determination, because such claims are matters of public concern. The removal of public interest litigation represents a major regression, that reverses the implementation by Tanzania of an important means of protecting constitutional democracy and a key avenue for securing the rights of vulnerable groups lacking the capacity and financial resources to bring their own cases before the courts.
The Commission also wishes to express its concern about reports reaching it, highlighting undue limitations on civil society, journalists and the media, including the prolonged detention in remand of accused journalists. In this respect, the Commission is particularly concerned about the reported revocation in June 2020 of the operating license of Tanzania Daima newspaper, the suspension of Kwanza Online TV in July 2020 for 11 months for reporting on the country’s COVID-19 situation and the prohibition of local languages from being used in broadcasting media.
The Commission reiterates that the right to information that forms part of Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) is critical in the effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic as underscored in ACHPR Resolution 449. The Commission further confirms the right of groups to use of their language, and that limitations may only be placed on expressions of hate speech and incitement to violence, but not on the language of communication.
The Commission is also concerned by reports of threats to and intimidation of opposition politicians, including in the context of the electoral process. The Commission in this regard reaffirms the right of every citizen under Article 13 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter), to participate freely in the government of his or her country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives. As pointed out in its Statement on Elections in Africa during the COVID-19 Pandemic of 22 July 2020, people should have full guarantees to be able to express their sovereign will by participating freely in the electoral process. The existence of an even playing field that allows all parties and candidates to campaign for and seek the vote of the electorate is also critical for free and fair elections that are in accordance with Articles 13 and 20 of the African Charter.
In this regard, the Commission:
1.Urges the Government of Tanzania to reverse both the amendment of the Basic Rights and Duties (Enforcement) Act (Cap. 3 of the Revised Laws of Tanzania) in line with the African Commission’s Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa, and the law that imposes a blanket ban on the use of local languages for broadcasting media;
2.Calls on the Government of Tanzania to allow democratically elected leaders in opposition parties to fulfil their democratic functions free from undue restrictions and to ensure that all the necessary safeguards are in place for conducting the elections, both in protecting the health and safety of voters, officials and observers, and in ensuring that the elections are conducted in a free environment in which the electorate can express its will freely and all candidates are guaranteed an even playing field to freely campaign for and seek the vote of the electorate;
3.Requests the Government of Tanzania to ensure that regulatory measures and actions of State agents are in accord with the right to freedom of expression and access to information under Article 9 of the African Charter as elaborated in the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa; and
4.Calls on the Government of Tanzania to ensure that the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time and before an impartial tribunal, as required by Article 7 (d) of the African Charter is duly complied with.
5.The Commission remains actively seized of the human rights situation in Tanzania leading up to the national elections on 28 October 2020.
Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso,
Chairperson of the Commission and Country Rapporteur for the United Republic of Tanzania
Commissioner Jamesina King,
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
Commissioner Rémy Ngoy Lumbu,
Vice Chairperson of the Commission and Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa