Africa court challenges Tanzania government to open up

THRDC, Mr Onesmo Olengurumwa

Arusha. The government has been requested to open up on its decision to withdraw from a key provision of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR).

Human rights and civil society activists, in particular, say they were concerned the withdrawal could result into Tanzanians denied the right to file their cases before the Arusha-based Court.

“The government should clarify on the matter because the Court was established to serve the people of Africa, including Tanzanians,” said Adam Nswila, the President of Friends of East Africa, a lobby group based here.

He told The Citizen he was among those deeply concerned by the move announced last week because of the likely consequences of the shock decision. “Tanzanians took advantage of the presence of the Court here to file cases. That’s due to easy accessibility. May be the government is not happy with that,” he wondered.

Mr Nswila affirmed he was not intending to provoke the government but was among those keen to know “as to why” Tanzania was not comfortable with the provision accessing individuals and NGOs directly to the Court. He said Arusha city and Tanzania would suffer should the Court decide to relocate to another country because its presence has raised the status of the country internationally.

The Court, a judicial organ of the African Union (AU), relocated to Arusha from its Addis Ababa headquarters in 2007 a year after it became operational.

Charles Bonaventure, an administrator of an NGO based here, said the issue should not be taken lightly because Tanzania is a host country for the continental judicial organ.

“We are the hosts. We have a diplomatic agreement to host the Court. We are expected to support it rather than downplaying some of its activities,” he remarked.

Meanwhile, the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) and the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) pleaded with the government yesterday to reconsider its plan and only arrive at a decision after thorough discussions with other stakeholders.

“Withdrawing without involving other stakeholders has created uncertainty. This is because the government has not openly stated the limits that it had set itself at the court and to what extent have they (the limits) been surpassed,” said the coordinator for THRDC, Mr Onesmo Olengurumwa He said in case the government proceeds with its plans, then human rights bodies will look into a way of filing a case against it (the government) at the Banjul (Gambia) based African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).

ACHPR is a quasi-judicial body tasked with promoting and protecting human rights and collective rights throughout the African continent.

Officials of the Court could not be reached to respond to the government notice which has generated debate in the mainstream and social media as well as within the diplomatic circles in Arusha.

The Court has since 2008 operated from the rented premises of the Tanzania National Parks (Tanapa), close to the conservation agency’s headquarters, along the Dodoma Road.

Years ago, the government of Tanzania offered it vast land at the former coffee estate site at Kisongo near the Arusha airport to construct its permanent headquarters. The project is still in the shelves.

Mr Edward Ole Lekaita strongly appealed to the government to categorically explain what reservations did it have then signing the Declaration it views as contentious.

“It is after this is made public then we can know what is behind this saga,” the lawyer told The Citizen, declining further discussion, saying the matter was still clouded in secrecy.

The African Court is among the high profile international organizations based in Arusha and the main one directly under the AU.

With the disbanding of the erstwhile International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) four years ago, it has struggled to keep Arusha the judicial capital o the continent.

The other international/regional organizations are the East African Community (EAC) - now leading in the number of the international workers - and allied institutions.

Ever since the government’s intention to withdraw from the key provision of the African Court, there had been muted discussions on the implications within the city’s diplomatic circles.