Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Tanzania

Political context

In 2007 the President, Mr. Jakaya Kikwete, was faced with a number of challenges, in particular the fight against corruption, economic development, and structural and institutional reforms. Thus, negotiations were launched between the ruling party, the Party of the Revolution (Chama Cha Mapinduzi – CCM), and the Civic United Front – CUF (opposition), with the aim of responding to the need for a legal and electoral reform in the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar. The issue became acute with the political tension that emerged on the occasion of the general elections – parliamentary and presidential – held in Zanzibar in 2005. The victory of the CCM candidate was contested by the CUF, which called for new elections and the setting up of a transitional national union Government. There followed considerable disturbances and outbreaks of violence, and NGOs were prevented from reporting the acts of violence committed both by the opposition and the security forces. Since then, obstacles such as refusal to grant registration have hindered the NGOs in the archipelago, and associations based on the continent were refused authorisation to enter the territory.1

Apart from the specific case of Zanzibar, human rights defenders are increasingly victims of violations of their rights, which most often take the form of selective judicial proceedings initiated against them with the aim of hindering their activities.

Fallacious legal proceedings designed to hinder defenders' activities

In Tanzania, defenders are often assimilated to political opponents, and are treated with the utmost suspicion by the authorities, which hinders their work of denouncing human rights violations. In most cases the legal proceedings are pure fabrication, aimed at obstructing their work and deterring them from persisting in their activities. The case of Reverend Eliya, a defender in the Morogoro region who in particular denounced female genital mutilation among the Massai tribes, is an illustration of the method used: in retaliation, the Massai asked the police to initiate an enquiry on the defender, going so far as to offer a financial contribution. In the end the charges had to be dropped, as there was no real evidence. This type of action serves to intimidate defenders, but it also has a deterrent effect on the victims. By harming the reputation and the credibility of the defenders, and therefore the trust of the population in them, the authorities sever the ties that are indispensable for gathering information.

Judicial harassment has also been used against defenders of the rights of populations exposed to forced eviction from their land, in particular the right to be consulted, to benefit from re-housing arrangements and to the compensation supposed to go with them. In February 2007, the police questioned the members of a mission of the Legal Human Rights Centre (LHRC) to the north of the country. The mission was acting pursuant to complaints filed by over 8,000 persons who had been evicted illegally. The grounds for the questioning were the organisation of illegal meetings and the fact that the authorities had not been informed of the activities the mission was planning to pursue. As it happens, the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance, set up in 2001 by the Government, had already ruled that defenders are not obliged to inform local authorities of their arrival. These were therefore only pretexts for hindering their activities, for discrediting them and depicting them as "subversive" elements in the eyes of the population. Likewise, in January 2007, Mr. Mashaka Said Fundi, a human rights observer for LHRC in the Manyara region, Kiteto district, was arrested and accused of organising illegal meetings and encouraging the populations to resist. The legality of the arrest and the accusations were challenged before the court, and once again the proceedings were suspended for lack of evidence. The same method was used in the case of defenders who had mobilised in the defence of the rights of the Hadzabe population, threatened by the project of a foreign investor – Tanzania UAE Safari Ltd Company – to obtain a hunting concession. The NGOs referred the matter to the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues and to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples. Two activists, one of them being Mr. Richard Baalow, Spokesman for the Habdaze Minority Group, were arrested and then released in May, following the international mobilisation. This also led to the retreat of the Tanzania UAE Safari Ltd Company, which announced in November 2007 that it was dropping the project.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 See country file on Tanzania of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders' Project (EHAHRD-Net).


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