Scribes kept at bay as African human rights body arrives

Arusha. They did not jet into the country secretly as one would have expected.

The government had endorsed their visit although the issue that brought them to Tanzania is still contentious.

But the mode of their meeting with the communities and human rights stakeholders here was unexpected.

The media was not only barred from the meeting hall but nobody in attendance was allowed to discuss anything with the scribes thereafter.

That was what transpired on Monday afternoon when officials of the Banjul-based African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) landed in Arusha.

Often times, the human rights activists through their CSOs would partner with the media for visibility of their most burning concerns.

This was not the case when journalists were kicked out of the meeting hall after a word went around that the team was at the venue for the Ngorongoro crisis.

Their mission was to probe complaints raised by the civil society groups in last year’s relocations of pastoralists in Ngorongoro district.

While some herders were forced out of the contested 1,500 square km piece of land between Loliondo and the Serengeti National Park, others were moved out of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA).

“We are here because the Tanzanian government endorsed our trip,” said Ms Ourveena Geereesha Topsy-Soona, the ACHPR Commissioner and Country Rapporteur for the organisation.

She spoke with journalists at 6 pm, hours after she and her team held a day-long meeting with representatives of the indigenous communities and NGO officials.

According to her, the delegation would be in the Ngorongoro and Loliondo divisions between yesterday (Tuesday) through to Thursday.

During the visit, ACHPR team will meet representatives of the communities which have been affected by the relocations

“On Friday, we will hold a press conference during which we will divulge information on our mission,” she said at a hotel on the city suburbs.

Onesmo Olengurumwa, the national coordinator of Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) was cautious in his remarks.

However, he did not hide to indicate that the mission from ACHPR was in the country to assess the situation “within the context of human rights.”

He added that last year’s relocation had its challenges and that the human rights body was here “to listen to the local and community leaders.”

THRDC is reported to have reached out to the human rights commission from last year over the evictions which drew criticisms from the local and foreign civil society fraternity.

Tuesday’s meeting was also attended by officials from the Arusha regional secretariat and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA).

Hundreds of families of pastoralists in the NCAA had moved to Somera village in Handeni district, Tanga region from the middle of last year.

The move, according to the government, is intended to safeguard the fragile NCA ecology from increased human and livestock populations.

ACHPR is a quasi-judicial body tasked with promoting and protecting human rights and collective (peoples’) rights in Africa.

It is also tasked to interprete the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and considering individual complaints of violations of the Charter.

These include investigating human rights violations, creating and approving programs of action towards encouraging human rights, and set up effect communication between them.

Although the ACHPR is under a regional government facility, they don’t have any actual power and enforcement over laws.

This ends up in them drafting up proposals to send up the chain of command to the Assembly of Heads of State and Government and they will act accordingly.