Tanzanian security forces committed gross abuses, killing at least thirty-five people and wounding more than 600 others, when they ruthlessly suppressed opposition demonstrations in Zanzibar more than one year ago, Human Rights Watch charged in a new report released today. Human Rights Watch said that none of those responsible for the abuses at the end of January 2001, including shootings of demonstrators, beatings and sexual abuse, had yet been held to account.
Not until a year after these shocking events did the Tanzanian government appoint a commission of inquiry,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “We welcome that decision, but urge the commission to move quickly to gather the evidence necessary to bring those responsible to justice. We hope that our report will help them get to the truth.”
The report, “'The Bullets Were Raining’ – The January 2001 Attack on Peaceful Demonstrators in Zanzibar,” details massacres that took place at four main locations – in Zanzibar Town, and at Wete, Micheweni, and Chake Chake on Pemba Island. Human Rights Watch concludes that upper-level government and security officials planned the crackdown in advance.
Human Rights Watch said the Tanzanian army and police opened fire without due cause on January 27, 2001, attacking thousands of supporters of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) who were protesting against alleged fraud in national elections held three months earlier. In the following days, the security forces, aided by ruling party officials and militias, went on a house-to-house rampage, indiscriminately arresting, beating, and sexually abusing island residents. Some two thousand Zanzibaris fled to nearby Kenya, though most have now returned following an agreement between the government and the CUF.
“These events were among the worst in a long history of differences between the mainland government and political opposition in the semi-autonomous Zanzibar islands,” said Takirambudde. “The Tanzanian security forces were willing to shoot, beat, torture, and commit sexual abuse to silence the political opposition.”
No one was reprimanded for a role in the killings, torture, or destruction of property. Instead, Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa publicly congratulated the security forces for restoring order on the islands, and several security forces officers were subsequently promoted.
The government-appointed commission of inquiry was set up in January 2002 following an agreement last October between Tanzania’s ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and the CUF, and is due to announce its findings by July. The October agreement also commits the government to introduce various constitutional reforms.