Samia: We are in no hurry for U-turn on African court

Arusha. President Samia Suluhu Hassan has for the first time opened up on Tanzania’s withdrawal from the NGOs clause of the African Court for Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR).

She said here yesterday that the government was yet to reverse its decision on the issue despite pressure from different quarters.

“For now the African Court shall have to wait,” she said when she opened the 27th annual general meeting of the East African Law Society (EALS).

Her remarks followed an appeal for Tanzania to reverse its withdrawal from the Court’s Declaration allowing NGOs and individuals to file cases directly before it.

“Let me be clear on this. We are aware of the matter and we are yet to make a decision,” she told hundreds of lawyers at Gran Melia Hotel.

Tanzania withdrew from the Declaration under Article 34 (6) of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR) in November 2019, citing a number of inconsistencies .

The official version of the pullout was that the provision (Declaration) had been implemented “contrary to the reservations it (the Court) submitted when making this Declaration”.

The move raised eyebrows from various quarters within and outside the country not only because Tanzania was a host nation but also its commitment to human rights.

As pressure piled up on the country to reverse the decision, the ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs said in June the issue was about to be resolved.

But President Samia admitted yesterday that Tanzania’s “partnership” with the Court had been on the rocks for sometime due to the controversial provision.

Out of the 270 or so cases filed before the Court, the vast majority were from Tanzania “and all of them are against the government”.

However, she assured members of the legal fraternity from the East African region that Tanzania would resume “its partnership” with the Court once the issue is sorted out.

Her remarks came only two weeks after the President of the Court, Lady Justice Imani Aboud, said she had reached out to the highest authorities in the land on the issue.

She hinted at a likelihood of Tanzania redepositing the Declaration allowing individuals and NGOs to file cases directly before it.

“From the courtesy visit on September 10th, 2022, we got some assurances,” she said when she opened the 67th session of the legal facility based in Arusha.

Since joining the Court at its inception in 1998, Tanzania has been one of the state parties to the AfCHPR to the Declaration allowing its citizens and NGOs to file cases directly before it.

But in 2019, it joined Rwanda, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire in ditching the Declaration leaving only six countries which have appended their signatures to the provision.

These are Tunisia, Ghana, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Mali and Gambia. Only 31 out of 55 AU member states have ratified the protocol that established the AfCHPR.

President Hassan, nevertheless, insisted that Tanzania was committed to good governance, rule of law and human rights protocols.

She cited improved working relations between the government and the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), the leading bar association in the country.

“Until very recently TLS looked like it was fighting the government. TLS had turned activists,” she stated, noting that the state was ready for engagement with lawyers “on the basis of equity”.

“Don’t fight the government. The government is ready to work together with the lawyers. Let’s engage and not fight each other,” she said.

Turning to Tanzania specifically, the Head of State expressed her concern on the increasing number of prisoners and inmates awaiting conclusion of their cases.

“Incidentally, the number of convicted prisoners nowadays matches those remanded. This is not a healthy situation,” President Hassan stated.

She said some innocent people had been jailed on framed up cases, a situation she blamed on corruption among members of the legal fraternity or the police.

The meeting of the regional bar association will, among other things, discuss how to unify the region through dispute resolution.

“We don’t want to see a shaky union (the EAC). The conversation will be on what we must do to fully integrate as a region,” said Mr David Sigano, EALS acting CEO.

Also to feature in the meeting is how the East African Community (EAC) can be a building block to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Besides building a unified EAC, members of the legal fraternity will also have a session on the role of financial institutions in fostering economic growth in the bloc.