Tanzania: Planned law amendments to prevent solidarity lawsuits must be rejected


 

On 10 June 2020, Tanzania’s National Assembly passed a restrictive law, the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments Act (No. 3) of 2020), which amended 13 laws. The law gravely undermines solidarity lawsuits and government accountability for rights violations.

The law now requires a person making a claim under the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act (“the Enforcement Act”) to submit an affidavit showing that the violation of the Enforcement Act has affected the claimant personally. This overly broad provision arbitrarily limits civil society organizations’ ability to pursue legal aid and law-based activities where they have not been personally harmed.

The limitations introduced by the amendments will certainly undermine the vital role that civil society and other independent groups play in advancing and protecting the human rights of vulnerable groups and holding the government accountable.

The laws also violate Article 26(2) of the Constitution of Tanzania which states that, “Every person has the right, in accordance with the procedure provided by law, to take legal action to ensure the protection of this Constitution and the laws of the land.” It further violates internationally recognized best practice that all persons, whether individually or in association with others, have the right to seek an effective remedy before a judicial body or other authority in response to a violation of human rights.  

The limitations introduced by the amendments will certainly undermine the vital role that civil society and other independent groups play in advancing and protecting the human rights of vulnerable groups and holding the government accountable, as they are the primary actors leading public interest litigation initiatives in the country.  As such, these amendments are likely to spur risks of arbitrary detention, judicial and administrative harassment, and other reprisals against real or perceived critics of the Tanzanian government.

ENDS

The Tanzanian government is contemplating introducing amendments to the country’s laws that will prevent human rights defenders and organizations from filing lawsuits on behalf of, or for the benefit of, victims of human rights violations, Amnesty International has learnt.

If passed, the proposed amendment - which was today before the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Parliamentary Committee - will require anyone seeking legal redress for human rights violations to prove that they were personally affected.

The proposed amendments are yet another development that will silence those who either cannot afford the cost of litigation or who do not seek justice themselves for fear of reprisals.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa

“The proposed amendments are yet another development that will silence those who either cannot afford the cost of litigation or who do not seek justice themselves for fear of reprisals”, said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“If passed, they will close off a much-needed avenue for accountability and will likely fuel human rights violations.”

On 4 June 2020 the Office of the Attorney General of Tanzania sent the proposed bill to parliament’s Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee ahead of its formal tabling in the parliament for wider discussion and adoption next week.

Human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations play a vital role in seeking justice, truth and reparations for the voiceless and advancing respect for human rights.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa

Among the laws to be amended is the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act which gives anyone the right to access the high court to seek redress for allegations of violations of constitutional provisions on human rights.

These proposed amendments come barely a year after Tanzania withdrew the right of individuals and NGOs to directly file cases against the country at the Arusha-based African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

“Human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations play a vital role in seeking justice, truth and reparations for the voiceless and advancing respect for human rights,” said Deprose Muchena.

The bill also seeks to grant immunity to the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Chief Justice for any act of commission or omission in the course of their duties. This comes at a time when people are increasingly filing suits against the president and government officials to hold them accountable for their actions, including restricting access to information relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This bill can only be read as the Tanzanian government’s attempt to evade accountability by restricting the people’s constitutional rights.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa

“This bill can only be read as the Tanzanian government’s attempt to evade accountability by restricting the people’s constitutional rights. The law must always serve to uphold and protect the rights of people rather than clamp them down,” said Deprose Muchena.

Background

The Tanzanian government has adopted or enforced a raft of repressive laws to stifle human rights in the country in the past few years.