Tanzania: UN experts put President Magufuli on the spot over human rights violations

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President John Magufuli of Tanzania. PHOTO/COURTESY

By PATRICK MAYOYO

UN experts have urged Tanzania to immediately drop legislative and other measures that further curb civic space, particularly as the country gears up for October elections.

In a statement issued today, the UN Special Rapporteurs also urged the Tanzania Government to uphold its international human rights commitments.

The experts included: Mr Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights of peaceful assembly and associationMs Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Mr David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression

They took issue with latest amendment to the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act that requires anyone seeking legal redress for human rights violations under the Constitution’s bill of rights to prove that they are personally affected.

“The amendments will ultimately prevent organisations from filing cases on behalf of victims, in an environment where accountability mechanisms and access to justice for victims are already fragile,” they said. 

They added that the amendments, which were fast-tracked through Parliament without meaningful consultations, are the latest in a string of newly enacted draconian legislation used to intimidate human rights defenders, silence independent journalism, and further restrict freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

Ms Mary Lawlor UN Special Rapport on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders. PHOTO/UN

The Special Rapporteurs’ call comes after the publication of several communications on restrictive laws and subsequent strict implementation, including one sent to the Tanzanian Government on 24 June 2020, expressing concerns about the amendments to the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act.

The experts fear these amendments gravely limit the ability of civil society and individuals to defend the rights of vulnerable individuals, groups and communities and violate the right to freedom of association.

The experts said the recent amendments further illustrate the deterioration of the human rights situation since 2016 — when opposition group political gatherings were barred —   with repeated arrests of opposition members, activists and critics. Tanzania has progressively enacted or begun to actively enforce laws limiting free media, electronic communication and public use of statistics.

“Under Government orders, multiple newspapers, radios and online TVs that expressed criticism of the president and Government have also been heavily fined and/or suspended,” the experts said. “COVID-19 has further compounded pre-existing human rights concerns, notably regarding the right to freedom of expression, including freedom to seek, receive and impart information.”

The experts said the Government is not meeting its commitments on information sharing and transparency after it stopped releasing statistics on COVID-19 cases at the end of April. President Magufuli declared the country virus free in early June.

Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Peaceful Assembly and Association. PHOTO/UN

However, several internet-based broadcaster and online stations have been suspended and fined for allegedly “transmitting false and misleading information” on the country’s approach to managing COVID-19.

The crackdown has escalated in recent weeks, with reports an opposition leader was attacked by unidentified assailants, the arrests of eight opposition members for alleged unlawful assembly, the suspension of a newspaper’s licence, and a police raid on training organised by the Tanzanian Human Rights Defenders Coalition.

The Rapporteurs have raised their concerns with the Government on numerous occasions recently. “The constant intimidation and harassment of activists and critics is unacceptable and must stop immediately,” they said.

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