Tanzania has passed a Bill that will offer immunity to its top leaders against prosecution for any action undertaken while in office.
Tanzania’s Parliament on June 10 endorsed amendments to the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act, giving leaders of the three arms of government protection from being sued in their individual capacities.
The leaders cited in the Bill are the president, vice-president, prime minister (representing the Executive); speaker and deputy speaker of the National Assembly (Legislature); and the chief justice (Judiciary). Any person aggrieved by their actions will only have the option of suing the State through the Attorney General.
The new clauses are included in the Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendments No 3 of 2020, which were approved under a certificate of urgency before Parliament was dissolved this week to pave the way for the October General Election.
The Bill was rushed through Parliament despite an outcry from civil society over its constitutional compatibility. It now awaits formal assent by President John Magufuli.
In a private write-up, prominent Tanzanian law professor, Issa Shivji, described the new clauses as an attempt to “amend the Constitution through the back door” by abolishing public interest litigation and conferring sovereign immunity on top public officials.
“This has severe implications for the rights to life, livelihood and dignity of the large majority of working people in villages and urban areas who are the primary victims of unconstitutional and illegal acts of the organs and officials of the state at different levels,” Prof Shivji said.
He added that petitions brought against the Attorney General on behalf of any of the cited officials were now likely to be dismissed. “Under these new clauses it is virtually impossible to sue the heads of the three branches of state even if they are alleged to have breached the constitution or the law of the land in the performance of their constitutional duties.”
In an online petition, a coalition of Tanzanian civil society organisations said the amendment was aimed at “instigating blatant violations of the national constitution” and called for strong public support against the Bill before it became law.
“This Bill is poisonous to civil rights in this country. The proposed amendments are aimed at denying citizens the opportunity to resort to the rule of law where they feel their constitutional rights are being violated,” the CSOs said.
Their online petition against the Bill had registered well over 3,000 signatures out of a targeted 5,000 by the time it was passed in Parliament.