Tanzania: Government withdraws individuals’ and NGOs’ right to direct access to African Court

The government of the Republic of Tanzania has withdrawn the right of individuals and NGOs to institute cases against it directly before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The withdrawal is being seen as an attempt to evade accountability especially in light of the fact that most cases filed at the African Court as well as most judgements issued by the same Court are against the Republic of Tanzania. [1]

Tanzania hosts the African Court whose seat is in Arusha, hence the withdrawal undermines the authority and mandate of the African Court.

The large number of the cases filed and decided the Court point towards major flaws in the justice system of Tanzania in the wake of mass human rights violations.

In 2018, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa together with 64 other Civil Society Organizations wrote an open letter to President Magufuli expressing concern over the worrying decline in respect for human rights, including the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, in Tanzania.

The letter urged the government to take proactive measures to protect the rights which are crucial to civic space and publicly recognize the essential role that a vibrant civil society and an independent media play in creating peaceful and equal societies

ARTICLE 19 has also documented grave violations of free speech, media freedom and freedom of assembly in the country including arrests of journalists and activists whose speech or articles merely lack political tolerance.

In 2016, the Republic of Rwanda also withdrew its declaration granting individuals and NGOs the right to institute cases against it directly before the African Court while a case was pending determination.  Rwanda’s withdrawal now leaves only eight countries that have deposited declarations allowing individuals and NGOs to institute cases directly before the African Court. These are Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Malawi, Benin, Tunisia, Gambia and Mali.

The tactic of withdrawing from the Court after cases have been launched, coupled with the low number of the declarations to the Court is illustrative of the wavering commitment of many African States in the protection of human rights.

Sandra Waswa, Acting Regional Director, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa comments that ‘‘The making of a declaration allowing individuals and NGOs to directly file cases at the African Court demonstrates a government’s commitment to the protection of human rights. The withdrawal of the declaration by the Republic of Tanzania represents a significant set-back for the protection of human rights in country and for Africa in general,’’

Tanzania, specifically saw the most significant drop in overall freedom of expression score between 2015 and 2016 (as measured by the Global Expression Report 2018/19.

The Global Expression Report also highlights that in Tanzania homophobia is sanctioned in law and police violence against LGBTQ+ peoples is alarmingly regular.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon the government of the Republic of Tanzania to reverse its decision to withdraw the declaration.

The African Union and African states committed to the continued development of the African Human Rights System must redouble efforts to strengthen the African Court’s role for the protection of human and peoples’ rights throughout the continent, by ratifying the existing Protocol and depositing declarations allowing individual and NGOs direct access to the Court.


Notes to editors:

[1] The Republic of Tanzania deposited the declaration on the 29th of March 2010. The   The making of the Declaration on Article 34(6) of the Protocol is optional on the State Parties to the Protocol, so is its withdrawal. Emerging from the Principle of State sovereignty, the Republic of Tanzania is free to commit itself and they retain the discretion to withdraw their commitments.

However, the withdrawal of the declaration effectively denies individuals and NGOs in the country the right to access justice. The ability for individuals and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to file cases directly before the African Court, the principal human rights protection structure on the continent, significantly reduces barriers of accessing justice to survivors and victims of human rights violations seeking redress and significantly increases the capacity of the Court to carry out its crucial mandate.