Tanzania: Respect the right to freedom of association

We, the undersigned organisations and individuals are concerned about the restrictive operating environment for human rights defenders (HRDs) in the United Republic of Tanzania, particularly, the government’s decision to freeze the accounts of Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC). The United Republic of Tanzania ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and is therefore obliged to respect the rights guaranteed thereunder.

THRDC is an important player and contributor to the inclusive development of Tanzania. With a membership of approximately 200 human rights organisations and working relationships with African and Pan-African organisations across the continent, THRDC provides protection and capacity building support to national HRDs. Additionally, it creates a linkage between the HRD community and regional and international human rights mechanisms, ultimately seeking greater protection for the human rights of Tanzanian citizens, as well as all Africans.

On 12 August 2020, THRDC was officially notified by CRDB Bank Tanzania that its bank accounts had been frozen. As a result, THRDC opted to suspend all institutional operations pending resolution of the issue. Additionally, THRDC Coordinator, Onesmo Ole Ngurumwa was summoned by police to explain why THRDC failed to heed to the government’s call to submit its contractual agreements with donors to the State Treasury, as required by law. He was later released on police bond, with two sureties each guaranteeing 200 million Tanzania shillings. This action may have a chilling effect on the crucial work of civil society organisations and is a setback in the fight for the protection and promotion of human rights.

In another incident, two employees of THRDC, were on 24 June 2020 taken to Oysterbay Police Station in Dar es Salaam for interrogation, for allegedly contravening the “laws of the land”. The arrest was in response to a three-day capacity-building workshop organised by THRDC, which was eventually cancelled by the authorities. The members were finally released without charge.[1] The interference with THRDC’s activities is uncalled-for and a clear violation of the right to freedom of association – and it has been highlighted as such by international human rights experts.[2]

These developments are a reflection of the narrowing civic space in the country, moreover as the country gears up for its general elections in October 2020. The government’s continuous enaction of legislative restrictions to further close civic space remains worrisome. On 10 June 2020, the National Assembly of Tanzania passed the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments Act (No.3) of 2020 that has been criticised as undermining fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania[3].

We call on the government of the United Republic of Tanzania to:

  • Unfreeze THRDC’s accounts to enable them to continue their vital work;
  • Create an enabling environment for civil society to operate and contribute to the governance of the country, and refrain from harassing HRDs;
  • Dialogue with THRDC to address any identified issues without compromising THRDC’s work.

 

Signatories:

  1. AfricanDefenders (Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  2. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
  3. AJPD Angola
  4. Alternatives- Cameroun
  5. Article 19, Eastern Africa
  6. Chapter One Foundation
  7. CIVICUS
  8. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
  9. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  10. Defenders Coalition-Kenya
  11. DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights
  12. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Coalition
  13. Haki Africa
  14. Heal Africa Trust- Zimbabwe
  15. House of Justice, Nigeria
  16. Human Rights Concern- Eritrea (HRCE)
  17. Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA)
  18. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  19. Justice Access Point
  20. Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)
  21. Ligue Iteka
  22. National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders- Uganda
  23. Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
  24. Reseau des Defenseurs des droits humans en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)
  25. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  26. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network
  27. Tunisian League for Human Rights
  28. West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (REDHAC)
  29. Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U)
  30. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
  31. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
 
 

Individuals:

  1. Justice Alfred Mavedzenge
  2. Arnold Tsunga
  3. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu
  4. Gabriel Mugaruka
  5. Gitahi Githuku
  6. Gloria Mabeiam Ballason

 

For more information, please contact: 

Hassan Shire, Executive Director, DefendDefenders, [email protected]

Estella Kabachwezi, Advocacy Research and Communications Manager, DefendDefenders, [email protected]

[1] Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Report on the Security Incident Happened to THRDC on 24th June 2020
[2] Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “UN experts call on Tanzania to end crackdown on civic space,” 22 July 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26117&LangID=E (accessed 21 August 2020).
[3] Twaweza, ‘Statement on the proposed Miscellaneous Amendments (N0.3) Bill 2020’, https://www.twaweza.org/index.php?i=1830 (accessed 20 August 2020)

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