Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 14:07 GMT

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2003 - Tanzania

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 14 April 2004
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2003 - Tanzania, 14 April 2004, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Restrictive law on NGO status65

The law on NGOs of November 2002, severely restricting freedoms of association and expression, should have come into force before the end of October 2003 with its publication in the Official Gazette. This had still not taken place by December 2003.

The act, which was drafted by the Parliamentary Assembly of Tanzania without any consultation with national NGOs, was ratified by M. Mkapa, President of the Republic, in December 2002.

Obligation to register

Article 35(1) of the act provides for criminal sanctions against NGOs that do not register. In accordance with this article, any person who operates an NGO without obtaining registration "shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousands shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to both such fine and imprisonment".

Considering the criminal sanctions attached to the non registration, the situation is likely to become extremely dangerous for NGOs, all the more so as the cases in which the registration can be refused are not strictly defined. Indeed, the NGO Act provides that an "NGOs Coordination Board" (NGO Board) may refuse to approve application for registration of an NGO, particularly if its activities do not strive for public interest. However, the definition of "public interest" is extremely vague. Indeed, according to Article 2 of the Act, "public interest includes all forms of activities aimed at providing for and improving the standard of living or eradication of poverty of a given group of people or the public at large".

Moreover, the NGO Act provides that the director of the NGO Board is appointed directly by the President of the Republic and contains no other provision relating to the qualification of the members of this Board nor on their election process.

Interference in NGO activities

According to the NGO Act, the NGO Board provides "policy guidelines to NGOs for harmonizing their activities in the light of the national development plan". However, some of these national development plans are very controversial for NGOs, with some organizations in fact advocating against some of them, in particular regarding privatization or land acquisition.

Moreover, Article 7 of the NGO Act also provides the NGO Board with the right to "investigate and to inquire into any matter" in order to ensure that NGOs adhere with their own statutes.

Article 25 of the NGO Act establishes a National Council for NGOs (the Council), which is a collective forum of NGOs, whose purpose is the co-ordination and networking of NGOs operating in Tanzania. However, Article 25(4) prohibits any NGO to "perform or claim to perform anything which the Council is empowered or required to do under the act".

Pressure on LEAT66

In November 2001 Mr. Nshala Rugemeleza, president of the Lawyers Environmental Action Team (LEAT), and Mr. Tundu Lissu, a LEAT lawyer, had publicly demanded an inquiry into the Bulyanhulu massacre in 1996.67 Following their declarations legal proceedings were brought against them in April 2002, for "publication with seditious intent".

The case, which had initially been handled by the Magistrate Court, was transferred to the Supreme Court in December 2002 at the request of Mr. Rugemeleza and Mr. Lissu, for examination of the constitutionality of articles 31 and 32 of the Newspaper Act. According to these two articles, any public criticism of government policy and action might be considered as an act of treason and be subjected to prosecution. Interestingly, in 1991 the president of the National Commission of Enquiry had declared that these provisions were incompatible with the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Tanzanian Constitution and had requested the government to amend them. Twelve years later nothing had been done yet.

Although the Supreme Court has been in charge of the case since December 2002, Mr Rugemeleza and Mr. Lissu continue to be summoned by the Magistrate Court. The hearing was again postponed on 30th October 2003 with no date specified.

Furthermore, at the beginning of October 2003, Mr. Lissu was threatened by the president of the National bar association who had recently been promoted to Supreme Court judge and who had stated to Mr. Lissu that "his life was worth more than his work". At the same time Mr. Lissu had been placed under close police surveillance for several days. These threats have since ceased.

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website ( was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

65. See Open Letter to the Tanzanian authorities dated 8th October 2003.

66. See Annual Report 2002.

67. In August 1996, during the expulsion of thousands of miners in the Bulyanhulu region, around fifty of them died as a result of being buried alive.

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