European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders


The European Union (EU) Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders (2004) provide the EU Member States with practical guidance on how to protect and support Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), especially in third countries. The text of the guidelines can be found at Although the EU did not select Tanzania as one of the approximately 25 initial priority countries urgently needing a local implementation strategy for the promotion of the guidelines and for practical measures to support HRDs, the EU member states with resident missions in Tanzania1 have nevertheless formulated a number of objectives and actions to guide their activities in support of HRDs. This local strategy is based on recent reports on the Human Rights (HR) including HRDs situation in Tanzania, along with consultations with HR-NGOs in Tanzania and the discussions during the first EU-HRDs meeting on 18 of May 2010.

Why does the EU want to support Human Rights Defenders?

HRDs play an important role in the promotion of HR in their respective countries. They share EU values such as democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. HRDs work to persuade their governments to ratify international human rights treaties, to ensure that where the government has ratified such treaties, state institutions comply with the obligations in practice and they are implemented through national laws and regulations, so bringing HR protection to the people. The work of HRDs also contributes to strengthening their country’s national human rights infrastructure. Supporting HRDs is, therefore, an integral part of the EU objective to
promote human rights, one of the key areas of EU Common Foreign and Security Policy. Who are Human Rights Defenders? The EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders are based on the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which was adopted in 1998. According to the UN
Declaration: “Human Rights Defenders are those individuals, groups and organs of society that promote and protect universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms. Human Rights Defenders seek the promotion and protection of civil and political rights as well as the promotion, protection and realisation of economic, social and cultural rights. Human Rights Defenders also promote and protect the rights of members of groups such as indigenous communities. The definition does not include those individuals or groups who commit or propagate violence.”

In other words, HRDs are defined by what they do. They can include individuals,
lawyers, journalists, NGOs, trade unionists, minority activists and demonstrators who are acting to promote or protect human rights.

Human Rights Defenders in Tanzania General situation

Tanzania has a relatively positive reputation in the realm of Human Rights. In national and international HR reports and discussions with HRDs, the HR situation in Tanzania is generally described as acceptable. In comparison with other sub-Saharan countries, the overall HR situation is not alarming. HR-NGOs and HRDs are accepted by Government bodies and generally not impeded from doing their work and voice their opinions. The protection of HR is however reported to be of a variable quality at lower levels of Government. As the November 2009 fact-finding mission by the East and Horn of Africa Human Right Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) concluded, the HR situation and that of HRDs in Tanzania is relatively positive and individuals themselves did not seem at great risk of physical harm or unlawful prosecution by the state. The Government of Tanzania has signed most international HR related international instruments and set up an advisory body on HR, the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG), which is under the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice. EHAHRDP nevertheless at the same time concluded that Tanzania’s positive reputation in the area of HR can itself be a challenge for HRDs in that they may struggle to draw attention and financing to their work and they may not put in place appropriate arrangements for their own protection. In Tanzania the biggest challenges of HRDs can be summarized as:

  • Funding (economic constraints)
  • Impact (coordination and synergy of activities)
  • Access (to information as well as to regional and international Human Right platforms and fora)
  • Obstruction of justice due to prolonged court cases and a weak judicial system.
  • Lack of a sense of urgency at the international level

A Conservative Society
The position of women continues to be a difficult one. The Government has made significant efforts in this area, but further work is required. Issues relating to Gender have been prioritised as part of the development partner agenda in Tanzania. The Government has adhered to all international principles and put in place mechanisms and regulation to promote women’s rights, nevertheless real ownership of this agenda is seen as lacking.

Witchcraft and traditional belief systems still play an important role in Tanzania. Some extreme aspects of these beliefs have resulted in issues of HR concern i.e. the killings of those living with albinism and ‘witch’ prosecutions. Although witchcraft is officially banned, people accused of witchcraft and those people living with albinism run a risk of abuse and violence, by their fellow citizens. Despite significant efforts, the state has proved to be incapable of fully securing the safety of these people.

Coming from a single party system
Although Tanzania officially introduced a multiparty-system in 1992, the political landscape is still very much dominated by the former single party, CCM. Excluding Zanzibar, CCM on average receives the support of over 80% of Tanzanian voters at both the national and local level; it controls all government positions and is influential within the Tanzanian commercial sector. Openly supporting an opposition party can result in more cumbersome career development, unreasonable scrutiny of business undertakings etc.

When Big Money is Involved
Both the EHAHRDP fact-finding report and the EU-HRDs meeting in May 2010 identified corruption, land-rights and natural resources as issues where denouncing irregularities attract pressure, coercion and even violence. These issues normally involve high stakes and large sums of money. Both governmental bodies and private entities can react adversely when they feel their interests are being threatened by too much attention. In particular, those that seek to highlight and expose corruption have faced significant challenges. The EU considers individuals working on tackling corruption to be Human Rights Defenders. The Role of the Media Journalists in Tanzania are the principal instigators of attention for corruption, they are likely to work with considerable risks, and can be subject to pressure and coercion. Under the scope of this local implementation strategy, journalists working towards the promotion of fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression and the right to access to information are considered to be HRDs.

Onesmo .P.Olengurumwa