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Tanzania Press Statement - Tanzania human rights report disappoints

Tanzania’s human rights records come up for review by the United Nations Human Rights Council under the 12th session of the newly established mechanism called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 3rd October, 2011 in Geneva.

Through the UPR mechanism, a country’s holistic achievement or violation of human rights is addressed and Government’s asked to give commitments on how to level any imbalances noted in totality, without any thematic limitations. In other words, Tanzania’s respect for human rights and compliance with international obligations will be laid bare to the whole word in a three hour session that will seek the Government delegation answer questions relating to its human rights atrocities and remedial action it intends to take to reverse the trend.

Tanzania already prepared its national report that was compiled through nationwide data collection and validation process, in which it lays out the framework for protection of human rights in the country and explains processes that have been pursued in the protection and promotion of human rights in the country.

The priorities identified by the government include finalizing a draft of the National Human Rights Plan of Action for the promotion and protection of Human Rights, tabling of a Bill in Parliament proposing for the establishment of a Constitutional Review Commission, reducing overcrowding and congestion in prisons, increasing the number of students in higher learning institutions, the number of teachers for primary, secondary and advanced level of schools, constructing more laboratories for schools to enhance the teaching of science subjects.

Others include enhancing teaching of human rights as a subject in schools, colleges and higher learning institutions. Others include ongoing legal reforms in the entire Legal Sector through the Legal Sector Reform Program, enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Anti Money Laundering Act.

However, UN Human Rights members and stakeholders are likely to raise some serious questions that relate to the violation of fundamental human rights in the country that the report is silent on or makes very light comments. The killing of persons with albinism and elderly women that reached peak since 2007 until January 2011 is a key issue that the Government needs to prepare for. Nearly 54 killings of persons with Albinism have been reported in Tanzania, which the Government reacted by forming an Albino Task Force and the suspension of all licenses of traditional healers in 2008, which was again lifted during the 2010 presidential elections. What was the report of the task force and what the Government has done to outlaw some cultural practices that promote such behaviours? While the Government reports about enacting the Children Act and increasing its health budget as way of cushioning children against human rights violations, little progress in the area of maternal and child mortality. The child mortality rates are too high and something more concrete needs to be done. Similarly, the number of street children is a growing prevalence in Tanzania due to poverty, deficient education, insecurity and lack of basic needs, psychological and parental care while no efforts have be done to cushion children in conflict with the law against human rights violations. Children in prisons still share same rooms with adults. Tanzania has one Juvenile Court situated in Dar es Salaam and 5 Remand Homes.

While the Government reports high enrolment rates in schools, many public education institutions are experiencing overcrowding in classrooms, inadequate facilities, insufficient number of skilled teachers in both Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar and school dropouts in the early years continue to add to the already existing problem of illiteracy.

One area that has always attracted the biggest concern for Human Rights Member states and stakeholders is the issue of freedom of expression, access to information and press freedom which the report is very silent and at most vague. The Government report only mentions Article 18 of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of expression and the Broadcasting Act as the best the Government has done to safe guard these fundamental rights. Stakeholders have on several occasions raised the issue that although the Tanzanian Constitution guaranteed the right to freedom of expression, it does not explicitly provide for freedom of the press. The Government will come on spot to shed some light on the existing restrictive laws that limit freedom of expression and the ability of the media to function effectively, including the 1976 Newspaper Act (notably as it related to the registration of newspapers), the 1970 National Security Act (as it gave the Government absolute scope to define what should be disclosed to or withheld from the public) and the 1945 Tanganyika Penal Code.

In its submission to the UN, ARTICLE 19 had recommended that Tanzania immediately abolish these laws, in particular the 1976 Newspaper Act and the 1970 National Security Act, and replace them with legislations in line with international human rights standards; and repeal other restrictive media regulations. Stakeholders had reported that there were no constitutional or legal provisions for the protection of journalists’ sources at either the Union level or in Zanzibar. Article 19 recommended that Tanzania adopt comprehensive legislation that would grant media the right to protection of sources. Article 19 also reported that freedom of media in Zanzibar was of a particular concern. Although the residents could receive private broadcasts from the mainland, the Government published the only daily paper and controlled the Television Zanzibar and the radio station Sauti ya Tanzania-Zanzibar.

On interest will be how the Government will respond to questions relating to the number of cases, in which journalists and media workers were attacked, including by policemen, for conducting their journalistic activities and the measures that Government had taken to thoroughly, promptly and effectively investigate all unresolved cases of violence against journalists and bring those responsible to justice.

After the review, the working group will then prepare a report detailing which recommendations Tanzania will have accepted and thus willing to implement and grounds of refusing some recommendations.

The Tanzania delegation needs to be alive to the fact that the UPR is a process that brings objectivity and transparency in the analysis of human rights situations globally and as such any recommendations given to it objective and meant for the good of the country. Any refusal of recommendations must be backed up with solid facts and those recommendations accepted are not merely for the sake of it but a genuine statement of intent to implement it.

Since no State likes to be blamed by the world community for failure to heed generally international standards, the UPR becomes an important tool of a world policy for the protection of human rights.

Through this process, citizens are able to monitor their government’s performance in human rights. Countries that are eager to have a positive balance sheet in the field of human rights will carefully evaluate any recommendations which have been addressed to them at the review, seeking to remedy any deficiencies to the greatest extent possible. Commitments that Tanzania makes this October will form the basis of its human rights agenda for the next four years, when it will be time for another review in the world stage.

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