Tanzania still bound by African court despite withdrawal

Saturday November 28 2020
John Magufuli.

President John Magufuli’s government requested a “temporary” withdrawal from the clause because it was dissatisfied with “some things that are going on” with regard to the clause’s application. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Tanzania’s withdrawal from the Arusha-based African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights (AfCHPR) came into effect on November 21, but the country legally remains a member of the Arusha-based court and will continue to adhere to other provisions of the protocol establishing it.

The court allows individuals and non-governmental organisations to sue Tanzania. As a human rights court and the African Union’s apex human rights mechanism, it has jurisdiction to hear cases alleging violations of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

However, the withdrawal means no Tanzanian individual or non-government organisation can seek direct recourse at the court. They can still do so through the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights based in the Gambian capital Banjul.

"This withdrawal decision should not be construed as the end of the road for Tanzanians who may be aggrieved by certain state decisions or actions. Tanzania has not withdrawn from the protocol of the Treaty establishing the African Court, but from the clause that allows individuals and COSs to file cases directly with the court," said Elifuraha Laltaika, a senior law lecturer at Arusha's Tumaini University.

"Tanzania is therefore still a legitimate member of the African Human Rights Commission and can still be prosecuted through that avenue," he added.

The commission reviews all cases before and, if it is satisfied, forwards them to the court in Arusha.


Withdrawal from the court comes into effect automatically one year after a notice has been lodged. Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Co-operation Palamagamba Kabudi signed the notice of withdrawal on November 14, 2019, and the African Union Commission received it on November 21, 2019. He said the government had requested a “temporary” withdrawal from the clause because it was dissatisfied with "some things that are going on" with regard to the clause’s application.

The withdrawal has been received with mixed feelings. The court’s registrar, Robert Eno, speaking to the media last week called on Tanzania to reconsider its decision as the host country.

Tanzania has the highest number of cases filed by individuals and NGOs as well as judgments issued against it by the African Court.