Civil rights bodies cite EAC treaty, sue Dar for ‘massive violations’ by its police

Tuesday January 05 2021

Zanzibar's anti-riot police officers during an operation after the opposition called for protests in Stone Town, on October 29, 2020. -PHOTO | AFP


Four civil rights organisations are suing the Tanzanian government for “massive violations” in the recent general election in which President John Pombe Magufuli was voted back in office.

The organisations from Kenya and Uganda are suing Tanzania at the East African Court of Justice, alleging that security agents clobbered, disappeared, detained and even killed opposition supporters during the election campaigns as well as after the results were announced in October.

“The government, through its security services and other institutions of the state, engaged in a campaign of serious and massive violations of the rule of law and fundamental and operational principles of the East African Community Treaty,” the organisations said in suit papers.

The case at the EACJ could test Tanzania’s regional integration credentials once more, given its own domestic laws forbid any legal challenge on presidential elections, once the results have been declared by the National Electoral Commission.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission, the Kenya Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ-K), and Uganda’s Chapter Four and the Centre for Constitutional Governance are suing Dar es Salaam for what they say is violations committed by a partner state of the East African Community (EAC).

They argue that the EAC Treaty’s Article 30(1) grants them rights to sue as “persons’ resident within a partner state of the EAC.” They also argue that as a member of the EAC, Tanzania was bound by the treaty’s provisions on good governance, social justice, transparency and protection of human rights.


Unwelcome political views

During elections last October, the four organisations say the state engaged targeted violence on ordinary citizens, journalists, activists, opposition supporters and politicians “and other individuals who held or were perceived to hold alternative political views.”

The elections saw Magufuli emerge the winner with 12.5 million votes, or 84.39 per cent of the vote, according to the National Electoral Commission of Tanzania. His closest opponent, Tundu Lissu, garnered 1.9 million votes. Thirteen others fell below 3 per cent. The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi also won 262 of the 264 seats in Parliament.

Yet the landslide victory was clouded with claims of irregularities. The Tanzanian Elections Watch a group of observers from the continent said the vote count “raised questions of credibility” and asked authorities to investigate. The NEC rejected claims of vote stuffing and the police denied any wrongdoing.

The four NGOs want the EACJ to affirm that the conduct of Tanzania security agents constitute violations against the treaty.

They also want the Court to order reparations, including damages, apology from the Tanzanian government, an independent investigation into the violations to prosecute the culprits and relevant reforms to prevent recurrence.

This will be the second major case the Tanzanian government will face under a Court created as part of the organs of the EAC.  In 2014, conservationists led by the Africa Network for Animal Welfare won against Dar after the EACJ termed Tanzania’s plans to construct a major highway through the Serengeti National Park “unlawful.”

The NGO had argued that the Serengeti ecosystem, linked to Kenya’s Masai Mara, was crucial for the survival of animals and that a highway would disrupt what it called a transboundary resource.