The South African Human Rights Commission (the SAHRC or Commission) has noted, with great concern, the raid, arrest and detention of human rights defenders who were holding a meeting on 17th October 2017 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The Commission understands that at the time of their arrest, these individuals were meeting to explore the possibility of mounting legal challenges to the government’s ban on drop-in centres serving key populations at risk of HIV, as well as the ban on water-based lubricants, an essential HIV prevention tool. These human rights defenders have since been accused of promoting homosexuality, leading to their arrest and detention for merely attempting to assist others in the realisation of fundamental human rights.

Advocate Bongani Majola, Chairperson of the SAHRC, has contacted the Chairperson of the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) in Tanzania, and urged that everything possible be done to facilitate the release of the group of human rights defenders.

As has been noted by numerous civil society organisations, it is concerning that this specific event occurred within days of African Human Rights Day, a day commemorated as a day of historical significance on which the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (African Charter) was brought into force on the 21st October 1986 and all State parties that ratified it, committed to adhere to it.

The African Charter, to which Tanzania is a signatory since 1982 and which it then ratified in 1984, provides for the right to liberty and to the security of the person at Article 6. The Commission is concerned that the detention of the group of litigators is an affront to this provision which clearly states: “No one may be deprived of his freedom except for reasons and conditions previously laid down by law. In particular, no one may be arbitrarily arrested or detained.” The Commission also wishes to remind the government of Tanzania that the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – a continental court established by African countries to ensure the protection of human and peoples’ rights in Africa – is seated in Arusha, Tanzania. Tanzania as a state therefore has an important role in the observance of the African Charter and human rights within the continent..

The Commission calls upon the Department of International Relations and Co-operation of the Republic of South Africa to exhaust all efforts in ensuring that all the human rights defenders are released.

The Commission also calls on the African Union to intervene and urges Tanzania to observe its commitments under the African Charter and release these litigators.