By Elias Mhegera – A landmark achievement has been reached in the democratic frontier in the Tanzanian governance arena after a recent agreement between the Police Force and human rights NGOs, (HRNGOs) under their umbrella body the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC).
The meeting between the THRDC and the Police Force on 27th February came as a development after the willingness that was shown by the Deputy Inspector of General of Police Force (DIGP), Abdulrahman Kaniki in November 26, 2013 when he was invited to represent the Force in a public event that was organized by the former. He was representing the Inspector General of Police Ernest Mangu
Thereafter this was followed by the mentioned one day seminar at the New Africa Hotel in Dar es Salaam, where more than 30 senior Police Officer including Regional Police Commander (RPCs), from both Mainland Tanzania and the Isles, attended.
This turned out to be an opening to new relationship between the Force and the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) if the promises were to be kept. It was realized that the communication gap has created unfounded mistrusts which now the two parties have decided to resolve.
It was after speeches by the DIGP, and the THRDC board member who is as well the executive director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Dr Helen Kijo-Bisimba when there was an enshrining of emotional reactions from the some Police officials who were categorical that they have never been treated fairly by the Human Rights NGOs (HRNGOs).
Talking about the challenges that Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) are facing it was the National Coordinator of the THRDC Onesmo Olengurumwa who said that depending on the nature of their activities and geographical locations, HRDs face a number of challenges.
It is during their operations when their either co-operate or at times even clash with the Police Force. For instance, women defenders have been facing problems from a segment of conservatives who view introduction of gender equity and campaigns against domestic violence as attempts to imitate foreign cultures as instigation of matrimonial conflicts.
For that matter, HRDs in these areas as the survey by the THRDC indicated, and the most recent survey by Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA), in Zanzibar and Musoma are in risky situations.
In other cases it is those who are dealing with governance and financial accountability in the Local Government Authorities (LGAs) this can be journalists or NGOs which are conducting Public Expenditure Surveys (PETS).
Another group is those who are championing for environmental and land rights this is because of land grabbing, land based conflicts and environmental degradation due to mining activities.
As it has been occurring in many occasions, whenever HRDs want to make follow up in violations of human rights usually there is a cooperation between human rights activists, journalists and other stakeholders, this is in many cases have had devastative effects.
In most cases they are rounded, beaten, arbitrarily arrested, and even their communication equipment like cameras and lap top are destroyed. These harassments, co notates that HRDs are hindered to inform the public while at times this goes hand in hand with repeated hatred statements from Government ministers as it was with the immediate former Tourism Minister Hamis Kagasheki against NGOs in Loliondo.
Whenever there are challenging situations like this very few HRDs can continue to work effectively, as a big number of them are scared. To a large extent that is why the HRDs are struggling in order to ensure that the Constitutional Assembly is to formulate laws that are supportive towards the freedom and access to information.
Although there have been constant denials every now and then, but HRDs are always entangled and they become victims of power abuse by the power mighty like the regional and district commissioners, Police Commanders, and even with The Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) soldiers as it was with gas commotions in Mtwara.
In other words HRDs are facing challenges not from a single direction as some of them are from the community itself and at times from the Government functionaries.
“The current economic and political contexts in Tanzania are not friendly and they need a thorough review if HRDs were to implement their working strategies without frequent interruptions” warned Olengurumwa.
The Coalition demands for established security strategies and resolutions and invites other stakeholders to be part of the general platform for change in the governance structure of the NGOs. As it has been occurring many times there is a tendency to perceive HRDs as being agents of the opposition.
These kinds of perceptions are promulgated by a segment of political leaders knowingly or unknowingly due to lack of understanding how the systems of separation of power and transparency work in democratic societies. In Tanzania anyone who criticizes poor performance in any area of the Government is regarded as an agent of the opposition or foreign elements.
It was the Mwanza’s Regional Police Commander (RPC), SACP-Valentino Mlowola who started it all when he lamented, “you have been tantalizing the Police Force through the media, this is very unfair we are also human rights defenders just like you,” he lamented.
His reaction followed statements that the Police Force has been part of the gross violation of human rights in Tanzania. His cry as a defensive mechanism even before a presentation was made was an indication that some bigwigs in the Force are never prepared for criticism.
But this does not mean that he did not have supporters in the hall. Arusha’s RPC Liberatus Sabas suggested that whenever HRNGOs discusses human rights issues in Tanzania they should have in mind that Police Officers are also human beings. “You should treat us as human beings as well” he added to the cry from the law enforcers’ commanders.
However he appreciated the fact that the HRDs trough the THRDC has opened a discussion forum. “I advice that we produce documents that will be shared in order to improve working relations, but also for imparting human rights knowledge to law enforcers” he commented.
This stance was also echoed by other colleagues in the Force as well. Ahmed Msangi Mbeya RPC’s went further and said that at times human rights defenders work as a supporting hand to the opposition, and that he was annoyed by their demonstration during the doctors’ strike in February 2012.
But it was not all differences at the session, as jokes also increased the fragrance at times. For instance Judge (rtd) Thomas Mihayo was cornered by the gigantic commanders of Paul Chagonja’s like, due to one TV jingo where he condemns violation of human rights by state organs, where his answer was simple “I do not mean all Police Officers are violators of human rights,” he defended.
Probably it was Mr Jesse James, lecturer Law School University of Dar es Dar es Salaam, who enlightened the commanders that their violation of human rights was implicit. “This is after a failure to balance between rights and responsibilities” he commented.
Himself a former Police Officer, elaborated further that Police officials are not cushioned from the International Criminal Court Statute or the Rome Statute and they can face prosecutions even after their retirements. He reminded them that the legality of international mechanisms against them stems from the fact that Tanzania has ratified various international protocols on human rights.
“we should tread carefully in our operations lest we find ourselves facing charges in the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)”, he warned. As the knowledge was passing over one could tell that Police brutality is partly contributed by lack of knowledge on human rights.
During discussions it was realized that some officials from the Force do not understand the role of CSOs in fulfilling the principles of separation of power. However, to this rescue were seasoned and probably much more exposed officials in the name of Zelothe Stephen and Suleiman Kova who admitted that there is no way the Police Force can sideline HRNGOs and journalists being in the family of HRDs.
For his part Kova said that his Force has had a good working relation with journalists which has facilitated a lot in the community policing zeal. He also lauded the HRNGOs because they are defenders of the citizenry at large, but called for more formal communication between these parties rather than outbursts through the media.
Adding to this debate Stephen said that if the Police Force, HRNGOs and the media were to work in good relations there would be tremendous improvement in the social welfare, since the main motive of ensuring security is to create an enabling environment for the citizenry and other residents in one respective country to produce peacefully without any fear of unpredictable intrusions.
Eventually it was decided that there must be a formulation of a new mechanism which will assist the Police Force to maintain peace but without sacrificing their vital role of protecting security, in order to remove assumptions that this Force is an armed wing of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) as it has been claimed several times in various political circles.
The Police Force promised that it will convene internal meetings and redefine its position in a new multiparty era where politicians have been at the centre of their daily operations.
“It is true there is a need to find what we can do with the executive, the legislature and even the judiciary, but our main problem has been political tug-of-wars” said Paul Chagonja a senior official in the Force who also heads special operations and training.
For this matter he suggests that NGOs should be intermediaries between these bodies and reminding them that national welfare should be given priority rather than intrinsic political divisiveness which now has at times put this Force in jeopardy.
In the working document for these organizations the Police Force will put forth its suggestions, and then the knowledge will be disseminated up to the grassroots level. It was also suggested the Force and CSOs should prepare joint media campaigns and education sessions which will enlighten the citizenry their role in maintaining peace and tranquility.
There will be engagement sessions between the Force and politicians in order to chart out working mechanisms and avoid unnecessary commotions as it has been the tradition previously. The media and HRNGOs were counseled to get enough information from the Force before they rush to the media for any utterances.
The dissemination of education on human rights should be expanded gradually within and without the Force in order to make law enforcers work more professionally but also the citizenry to understand their responsibility in maintaining peace and order.
Protection of human rights should go beyond the traditional understanding where law enforcers are only perceived as violators of human rights. In other words exchange of mutual trust should reduce the existing mutual suspicions between HRNGOs and the Police Force.
The Police Force promised to institutionalize a focal person on human rights in order to maintain regular communications between the Police Force and the CSOs.
“From now onwards I believe we have opened a new working chapter, we do not expect outbursts in the media, and we promise that all the deliberations will be worked upon” said a jubilant Chagonja when giving the closing remarks at this seminar.