Dar es Salaam. The government says it planned to file its report on the human rights situation in the country at the United Nations panel, noting that it was not worried about other reports by private organisations.
Deputy Minister for education William Ole Nasha has told Parliament that Tanzania record on the respect for human rights was not as bad as it was being portrayed by activists.
Mr Ole Nasha accused rights bodies of what he said is a tendency to distort the reality and filing “exaggerated reports” with the UN panel on human rights.
He was responding to a question in the august House this week by a Member of Parliament who challenged the government to say whether it was facing difficulties in expounding its record.
The matter came in the heels of news reports that 38 non-governmental organisations have sent a letter to member and observer states of the UN Human Rights Council, asking them to address what they see as the crackdown on human rights in the country at the upcoming 41st session of the council which will take place from 24 June-12 July this year.
The organisations, which include Human Rights Watch, Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Reporters Without Borders, Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists and others sent the letter on May 13, 2019.
The letter states that journalists, opposition and dissenting voices, human rights defenders, and LGBTI people “have come under increasing pressure as the government enacts draconian laws, threatens independent journalism, and restricts freedoms of opinion and expression.”
The Minister for Public Service and Good Governance, Mr George Mkuchika, was not available to comment. Separately government spokesperson, Dr Hassan Abasi, was quoted by The EastAfrican confirming that Tanzania has already filed its own report with the UN.
“We know there are some non-governmental organisations that are being used by some powers that have written to th UN complaining about the Tanzania human rights issue,” he said, adding that the government was not answerable to NGOs he claimed were churning out “cheap propaganda.”
The letter by the organisations sites several incidences, including the recent barring into the country of Dr Wairagala Wakabi, the Executive Director of the Uganda-based Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). He was sent back at the airport as he came in for a conference.
It also mentions the decision by the Information Services Department of February 27, 2019, of temporarily suspending the publication license of The Citizen newspaper. The government had accused the newspaper of publishing reports that were “false,” “misleading,” and “seditious.”
The letter also addresses the fate of journalist Azory Gwanda, who disappeared in November 2017 and his whereabouts remain unknown. The letter said that this “highlights the government's failure to launch effective and credible investigations into his disappearance, as well as the need for the establishment of protection mechanisms for journalists and [Human Rights Defenders] HRDs in Tanzania.”
Information, Culture, Arts and Sports minister, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, said on April 23 this year that he was wondering why people kept asking the whereabouts of Gwanda while it is understood that the area where he is supposedly lost is the area where hundreds of other people have disappeared.
The only noticeable positive development according to the letter, is the March 28, 2019 judgment by the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) which ruled that some sections in the Media Services Act violated the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community. The government said it disagrees with the decision and that it will take its fight against it to a higher court.
“The options outlined in the present letter fit in a form of preventative engagement the Council has been seeking to promote as it works towards operationalizing its ‘prevention mandate,’ the letter states. “The 41st session should be leveraged to help prevent further deterioration of the human rights situation in Tanzania,” said the organiations
This is the second time the coalition of non-governmental organizations wrote to member and observer states about the situation in Tanzania. The first time was in 2018 during the 40th session of the council.