11 Mar 2002

Human rights situation seems to improve

The United States government has expressed disappointment at what it regards as a general deterioration of human rights in Tanzania last year, despite notable government efforts to engage in dialogue with the opposition. While there had been improvements in a few areas, Tanzanians continued to face serious human rights abuses, according to the Tanzania country report for 2001 on human rights practices, released by the Department of State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour.

Washington's concern about human rights in Tanzania applied particularly to the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, where citizens' rights were "circumscribed severely by abuses of and limitations of" civil and political liberties, the report stated. Tanzania's human rights record was tarnished mainly by violent incidents on the Zanzibari islands of Pemba and Unguja on 26 and 27 January 2001, it said. In those incidents, between 24 and 70 people were killed, and more than 2,000 fled to neighbouring Kenya as refugees, when the police forcibly dispersed a demonstration by supporters of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF), it added. The demonstrators were protesting against the results of presidential and parliamentary elections of October 2000, which, the opposition claimed had been rigged.

However, the US also noted that police harassment of members and supporters of political opposition had sharply declined towards the end of the year, following the signing of a reconciliation accord between the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and the opposition CUF in October. Under the agreement, CCM and CCM agreed that electoral procedures in Zanzibar would be reformed; an investigation would take place into the January 2001 violence; steps would be taken to allow the safe return of all remaining refugees (many had returned earlier); and representatives of both sides would form a supervisory commission to ensure the implementation of the agreement.

That agreement and the January announcement of the formation of the commission of inquiry have been cautiously welcomed by human rights groups, who consider the moves as constituting a step capable of enhancing opportunities for reconciliation between the government and the opposition. (IRIN)

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