Case of an immigrant mistreated by the judicial and prison system in Tanzania

Mr X is a Congolese man who was living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In early June 2006, he lost his passport. He went to the Tanzanian police to register the loss of his passport and to the DRC embassy to request for a new passport. But on 9 June 2006, Tanzanian authorities arrested him, his wife and their two sons for residing illegally in the country – despite the fact that he presented the certificate of loss of his passport, which contained a visa to stay in the country until September 2006, and the official correspondence from the embassy of his country to Tanzania confirming that he was in the process of obtaining a new passport.

Mr X was brought to prison along with his family. Upon arrival, he was subjected to an anal search in front of his children, and they were all put in cells. They were detained for 5 days before being released, thanks to the intervention of the DRC embassy.

His family was ordered to leave the country just a few days later while he was allowed to stay in Tanzania during judicial proceedings to determine whether he is an illegal immigrant. Seven years later, after matter concluded before Tanzanian courts, he was ordered to leave Tanzania too. Having no other available legal avenue left, he submitted a complaint to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2015.

On 28 March 2019, the African Court found that Tanzania had violated Mr X’s rights on multiple levels – rights to dignity and physical integrity, right to residence and freedom of movement, and right to a fair trial.¹ The Court said that Tanzanian authorities should not have arrested him in the first place as he was legally present in the country. In addition, his dignity was violated as he was subjected to the degrading treatment of the anal search upon entry into the prison. The Court added that he was not a security threat as he was only accused of not having his passport and, even assuming there was a need for anal search, the State agents should not have conducted it in the presence of his children. Thereafter, Tanzanian courts also failed to try him within a reasonable time given that it took many years for it to decide whether he was to be deported.

The Court ordered Tanzania to pay compensation to Mr X, his wife and his children for the psychological suffering they endured over the years and to take all necessary measures to change their practice with regards to systematic anal search – to ensure that, if conducted at all, they are at least conducted in a manner that is respectful of the person’s integrity, dignity, reputation and honour.

This judgment has therefore recognized that what Mr X went through was wrong and provided some remedy to him and his family, but it also has the potential to change the experience of all people being arrested and brought to prison in Tanzania, to make sure they are treated in a more humane manner.

[1] Violations of articles 5, 4, 12 and 7 of the African Charter respectively