QUESTION: Who is a human right defender?
ANSWER: A human rights defender is any individual, groups and organs of society seeking to promote and protect universally recognized human rights and freedom. Human rights defenders include lawyers, judges, journalists, whistle blowers, bloggers, students, religious leaders, trade unionists and any other person working to combat human rights abuses in a peaceful manner.
Q: What is the current situation of human rights defenders in Tanzania?
A: Our organization has recorded a number of security incidents towards human rights defenders.
Despite being change agents, these activists have continuously harassed, detained, interrogated, imprisoned, tortured and even at times paying the ultimate price when they are killed for what they do. A good example is the last year’s killing of Iringa based Channel Ten journalist Daudi Mwangosi, the barbaric and brutal torture of Dr. Stephen Ulimboka, the death of Issa Gumba, the suspicious death of women human right defender in Mara Eustace Nyarugenda who was the director of Action Based Foundation, continuing constant threats towards other journalists like Cosmas Makongo, Josephat Isango, Charless Misango, the indefinite ban of Mwanahalisi and the arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders. These are just few incidents that paints bad picture on the map of Tanzania when it comes to observing human rights.
However, legal impediments affect a broad range of civil society organizations, regardless of their mission; these organizations pursuing human rights and democracy in Tanzania are more disproportionately affected, most are at risk and deliberately targeted. Other problems facing human rights defenders in the country include poor security conscience; limited or lack of information sharing; restrictions on access to information and limited knowledge of human rights defenders and their rights.
Q: You have hinted on the rights of human rights defenders, what are they?
A: They are many. For example, to seek the protection and realization of human rights at the national and international levels; to conduct human rights work individually and in association with others, to form associations and non-governmental organizations; to meet or assemble peacefully and to seek, obtain, receive and hold information relating to human rights.
Also in the list are to develop and discuss new human rights ideas and principles and to advocate their acceptance; to submit to governmental bodies public concerns and affairs, to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other advice and assistance in defence of human rights; to attend public hearings, proceedings and trials in order to assess their compliance with national law and international human rights obligations and to benefit from an effective remedy. Also to protect, react for or against human rights issues through peaceful means.
Q: What motivated you to establish human rights defenders Coalition?
A: My passion for human rights dates all the way back from the University of Dar Es Salaam where I served as a President of the Human Rights Association. The association was vibrant and vocal and its duties were to organize conferences, seminars and workshops on issues of genocide; Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the campaign against the death penalty; among other things.
In Tanzania, a notion of protection of human rights defenders is quite new. Many people do confuse the work of defending human rights defenders and other normal human rights activities. In fact majority of them (human rights defenders) do not know that they are ‘human rights defenders’ who need some level of sensitivity and special protection in performing their day-to-day activities as defenders and promoters of others rights.
So this coalition is a non-governmental, non-partisan and human rights organization, registered under the Non-Governmental Act of 2002.
It is comprised of 70 individual and organizational memberships, who are basically human rights defenders in Tanzania (HRDs). Its membership and representation in terms of operation is spread (through designated zone offices or coordination) all over the United Republic of Tanzania.
The main interest of this coalition is to, inter alia, work towards enhanced security and protection of the HRDs in the United Republic of Tanzania. The overall goal of the coalition is to contribute to the reduction of risks that human rights defenders face through promotion and protection of human rights defenders.
Other objectives are to advocate for the recognition of human rights defenders, and the work that they do in the country especially advocacy, to build capacity of human rights defenders in security and protection management, and enhance the security and protection of human rights defenders in this country.
Q: Sometimes human rights defenders in Tanzania tend to ignore risk and threats facing them when fighting for human rights, why do you think so?
A: There are a number of reasons for this, first, they normally focus on the victims rather than themselves, some think that taking risks is just ‘part of the job’ – they just have to accept it, majority do not know whether their work is risky, their organizations do not care about Security, they lack security management knowledge, nowhere to get protection and some human rights defenders feel that to stop their work is not an option, no matter what the risk
Q: What are the operational challenges facing civil society organizations (CSOs) like yours in Tanzania?
A: In Tanzania, there are many challenges, some related to institutional capacity such as lack of sustainable movement and campaigns, lack of resources, lack of professionalism, poor networking as well as the majority of them are less informed.
On the other hand the CSOs in this country in most cases and particularly those in the rural set up have always been victims of state control during their operations.
The operation of CSOs becomes unfavourable at times of elections.
We have recently witnessed a backlash against CSOs democracy on the part of regimes that seek to frustrate, undermine, or prohibit the activities of democratic and civil society groups and individual activists. Some top government officials have been recorded openly giving ambiguous statements against CSOs in Tanzania. This is setting back democracy in the country.
Q: What is your call?
A: Our country is not heaven to make us feel free from perpetrators of impunity. This should therefore adjust and fine-tune our minds in the pretext of peace and tranquility. We are obliged to learn that attacks and threats towards human rights defenders including journalists have complex ranges that require our solidarity and high level of security consciousness to set them free. This is because if the perpetrators of human rights violation won’t send thugs to attack you, they will certainly close your organization, arrest you maliciously or even create draconian legislations such as the Tanzania Newspaper Act of 1976 only to see the work of human rights protection and promotion bunged up.
Under this increasing tension, there is a need to have supporting forces and key stakeholders such as regional and international organizations and development partners whose main objectives are to increase transparency and openness on the side of state actors and on the other hand improve both security and financial capacity of non state actors. These stakeholders may have political clout or the capacity to put pressure on duty-bearer stakeholders (governments) who do not fulfill their responsibilities