© Tanzanian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)

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ACHPR77: Tanzanian civil society validates a human rights defenders policy

On 19 October, with the support of ISHR, the Tanzanian Human Rights Defenders Coalition organised a one day event with defenders from all around the country to reflect on the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders and validate the civil society led draft on the promotion and protection of the rights of defenders in Tanzania.

The Tanzanian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) gathered defenders from all regions of the country to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration, discuss its implementation in the country and the needs to strengthen their legal framework for the promotion and protection of the rights to defenders through the adoption of a policy on human rights defenders.  

The event was attended by Minister of Constitutional and Legal Affairs Hon. Dr. Pindi Chana who highlighted notable human rights achievements under the ongoing leadership of Honourable President Samia Suluhu Hassan such as the opening of legal aid services in all regions of the country and the establishment of a special commission which will work with various stakeholders to achieve the necessary reforms to better protect and promote human rights in the country. 

Discussing and reflecting on the advancement in Africa since the adoption of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders (‘the Declaration’), speakers highlighted the numerous legislative progress in some countries and the increase in legislative restrictions in others. 

 

The legal recognition and protection of human rights defenders is crucial to ensure that they can work in a safe, supportive environment and be free from attacks, reprisals and unreasonable restrictions. The legal recognition and protection of defenders also contributes to the broader goals of upholding human rights, and promoting democracy, good governance, sustainable development and respect for the rule of law. In Africa, in the past ten years, 5 countries adopted specific laws protecting the rights of defenders, recognising the need and obligations that follow the adoption of the UN Declaration.
Adélaïde Etong Kame, Senior Programme Manager at ISHR

Speakers also highlighted the importance to recognise that while the adoption of the Declaration was an incredible progress, defenders still face a high number of violations for enjoying their right to defend rights.  

‘It is not easy to be a defender, especially in Africa,’ said Washington Katema, Executive Director of the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network. ‘Defenders must be safe and not silenced. Defending human rights is not a crime and, to our colleagues from the Government, defenders are not the enemy of the State, rather, they stand for those who can not stand for themselves. Defenders are everywhere, so as we reflect on the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on defenders, let’s also reflect on the Africa we want. An Africa where defenders are free from reprisals, arrests, intimidations and assassinations,’ he concluded. 

The draft policy was then presented to the participants. Among other things, it includes important principles and rights such as the right to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, ensuring that decisions on registration, suspension and de-registration of organisations are taken by a mechanism the majority of whose members are from civil society or that organisations shall be self-governing and free to determine their internal management structures. The policy also provides for State obligations such as the need to ensure an enabling environment for defenders or that laws and administrative measures adopted by the government should protect, not impede the peaceful activities of defenders. Furthermore, defenders discussed the importance of sensitising the authorities to the specificities of the violations faced by vulnerable groups such as Indigenous and LGBTIQ+ defenders. 

As Tanzania embarks on this journey, it is important that the ownership of this process goes beyond this assembly. It is important that marginalised and discriminated-against groups, such as women defenders, are included in this process.
Adélaïde Etong Kame, Senior Programme Manager at ISHR

Finally, the draft policy was adopted by civil society and a commitment was made by the office of the Minister of Constitutional and Legal Affairs to kickstart the process with a particular attention given to the needs expressed by defenders. 

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