Tanzania sets in motion its exit from rights court

Saturday December 7 2019

The African Court in Arusha, Tanzania.

The African Court in Arusha, Tanzania. This past week, the government presented a withdrawal notice to the African Union Commission, heralding its withdrawal from the court. PHOTO COURTESY | AFCHPR 

PATTY MAGUBIRA
By PATTY MAGUBIRA
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Tanzania’s decision to withdraw from the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) effectively locks out its citizens and civil society groups from accessing justice, analysts have cautioned.

Article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights that establishes the AfCHPR requires that before natural persons and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) present cases directly to the African Court, their countries or the countries against which the cases are filed should have declared in writing that they allow such matters to be brought against them.

In Tanzania, many natural persons, especially prisoners, have filed cases against the government.

This past week, the government presented a withdrawal notice to the African Union Commission, heralding its withdrawal from the court.

Earlier, Tanzania Minister for Foreign Affairs Augustine Mahiga said Article 34(6), which requires that a State has to deposit instruments to the African court declaring that its citizens and NGOs can sue it, was contrary to Tanzania’s Constitution.

“The decision has been reached after the declaration has been implemented contrary to the reservation submitted by United Republic of Tanzania when making its declaration,” reads part of the withdrawal notice.

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The declaration was signed by Tanzania’s Foreign Minister Palamagamba Kabudi, and seen by The EastAfrican.

Human rights commitments

Various stakeholders, including Amnesty International and the UN, have called on Dar es Salaam to reconsider its decision, terming it a step backwards in its human rights commitments.

If the Tanzania government’s decision to withdraw its signature sails through, the country will deny natural persons and NGOs the opportunity to sue it at the African Court.

The decision will, however, only be effective after 18 months, and will not affect cases that are already filed before the court.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because she is not an authorised spokesperson, an official of the AfCHPR said the court had not yet received the letter that the Tanzanian government had submitted at the African Union Secretariat.
“We’ve heard the reports, just like you,” she said.

Analysts said the move would taint the reputation of the country and encourage some Tanzanians to resort to wayward means of enforcing their rights if political parties are inactive and local courts are not independent.

“Looking at the way officials are appointed, many who believe local courts are not free went to file their cases at the continental outfit,” said Azaveli Lwaitama, the Programme coordinator of Vision East Africa Forum.

Dr Lwaitama said most African governments were uncomfortable with the International Criminal Court.

He said withdrawing from the continental court implied that the government was either afraid of its own citizens or was preparing to replace good governance with impunity.
The chief executive officer of the East Africa Law Society, Hanningtone Amol, said the Tanzania government’s decision did not augur well, given the country hosts the continental court in Arusha.

Denying Tanzanians benefits of accessing the court is denial of opportunity to enjoy expanded human-rights space, he said.

“The court has not done anything unusual that warrants withdrawal by Tanzania,” said Mr Amol. “There is no radical decision that the court has made against Tanzania.”

He said what the court had done was to enforce human rights standards provided for in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

“Tanzania is affected because its officials have repeatedly been found to have violated the Charter,” he said.

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