Tanzania: Rights Defenders Hope for a New Dawn

Dar es Salaam — Human rights defenders yesterday discussed the situation of human rights 60 years after independence, saying that the situation is still not good enough.

But, they exuded optimism for a better future.

They said the light signalling a new beginning for the next six decades in the area of human rights has begun to shine in the current government - and this gives them confidence that the widely criticised area since independence will eventually break even.

They were speaking yesterday during a national dialogue on the state of human rights promotion, protection and challenges in Tanzania 60 years after independence from foreign rule

The dialogue was organised by the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) in collaboration with the Ministry of Constitution and Legal Affairs, attracting local and international stakeholders ahead of the country's 60th independence day.

They said even as the country celebrates its independence today, a majority of its citizens "still live in fear, injustice and in an environment with jeopardised democratisation."

But, Mr Amon Mpanju, deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Constitution and Legal Affairs, said at different times within the 60 years of independence, the government has been drafting and amending various laws with various development plans aimed at promoting and advancing human rights in the country.

Also at different times, he noted, the government has enacted specific laws to protect the rights of various groups of people, such as children, women, the elderly and people with disabilities.

Also, he said, the focus of the government has been to enable its citizens wherever they are to access their rights through economic empowerment, revolution in rural and urban infrastructure including electricity in rural areas.

"These are steps that we have been taking as we deliver services to our people in efforts to promote and enhance human rights in the country," he said.

The NCCR-Mageuzi national chairman, Mr James Mbatia, said there have been some significant changes in the lives of Tanzanians 60 years after independence due to suppression of human rights and freedom of expression.

"Sixty years of independence have been darker than the years before independence - even with the multi-party political system," he said.

The politician - who represented other political parties added at the forum - said "There does exist political discrimination... Religious leaders have been bullied whenever they criticised the government - but were praised when they supported leaders."

Retired Judge John Ruhangisa also said many citizens have had nowhere to run to in the last several decades as there has not been security of their rights.

"Everywhere, there is fear, only the law courts remained as places of refuge; but that is not even the case now. Where should he go? We need a new constitution and it will be the culmination of all this," said Prof Ruhangisa.

However, Mr Mpanju reminded Tanzanians that, in addition to being given the rights to enjoy, they should remember that those rights also have responsibilities.

"You can't talk about justice without responsibility," he said. "There are limits to enjoying our rights - even though many do not want to hear it... "

He said Tanzania must have a constitutional, legal and human rights framework that aims to promote and advance human rights - albeit within the established legal frameworks.

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