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Tanzania generously provided refuge to hundreds of thousands of refugees from other African countries over many years, in some cases offering them land for settlement, integration, and citizenship. Currently the country hosts over 600,000137 refugees, the majority of whom fled conflicts in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda. Ethnic Hutu Burundians constitute the majority of this refugee population. This continuing influx of refugees has sparked a degree of xenophobia and growing hostility among Tanzanians, who point to the serious security, financial, and environmental impact that large refugee influxes have on their country. At times, the Tanzanian government has reacted to such influxes by violating international refugee law.138 For the most part however, Tanzania continues to accept refugees, provide them with asylum, and coordinate with unhcr to set up mechanisms that afford refugees greater assistance and protection.

In meetings with Human Rights Watch, Tanzanian government officials in Dar-es-Salaam expressed concern about the exposure of refugee women to sexual and domestic violence, but said they lacked the necessary resources to ensure law enforcement and to provide adequate judicial services in the areas in which the refugee camps are located.139 In visiting the camps, it was clear to Human Rights Watch that Tanzanian police and judicial authorities are certainly hampered by a lack of personnel and a shortage of material resources, though there were also problems arising from bias on the part of local police, camp commanders, and magistrates regarding violence against women, and against refugees generally. Indeed, refugees repeatedly complained that police refused to take seriously or investigate their complaints, particularly when the alleged assailant was a Tanzanian.

While noting significant improvements in other respects between its 1998 and 1999 visits to the camps, Human Rights Watch could not discern any significant changes either in police and related resources or in attitudes. Acute lack of resources available to local police and courts persists and hinders the police and courts from functioning effectively. The district courts in the Kigoma area were understaffed; the Kasulu and Kibondo districts each had only one district magistrate: they have to deal with all criminal cases from the refugee camps, as well as the wider Tanzanian community. Minor improvements had been made thanks to the provision of funding, stationery, and radios, to the magistrate and police by unhcr in 1999.

The mha's Refugee Department, in Dar-es-Salaam, is responsible for overseeing all matters concerning refugees, including camp administration, security, and ensuring the application of Tanzanian laws to refugees and relief agencies operating in the camps. The Refugee Department has deployed one officer, known as the camp commander, to each refugee camp. This officer oversees the camp's administration and security at the field level and monitor the movement of refugees, including issuing passes to travel outside the camps.140 The MHA has also deployed at least twenty police officers to each of the Burundian camps visited by Human Rights Watch in order to maintain law and order in the camps. These police were deployed in 1998 under a security agreement funded by unhcr. Camp commanders, police, and unhcr officials all work closely together to address the administrative and security needs of refugees in the camps.

The Camp Commanders

In each camp, the commanders have established refugee administrative structures to improve camp security. These structures are composed of four groups of refugees who report cases of violence in the camps to camp commanders: youngmale refugees (known as sungu-sungus),141 who patrol the camps and report violent incidents and other disputes to block leaders;142 women's representatives, who receive complaints from women refugees, including cases of domestic and sexual violence, and report these to block leaders; block leaders themselves who receive and pass on all complaints to unhcr, the Tanzanian authorities, or the abashingatahe; and the abashingatahe, who preside over certain cases and refer others to the camp commander and unhcr officers.143

Most camp commanders Human Rights Watch interviewed in 1998 expressed concern about the security of Burundian refugee women, but this rarely seemed to translate into a serious effort to combat violence.144 Some camp commanders did not consider domestic violence to be a crime to be punished in the courts and were reluctant to refer allegations to police for investigation. Rather, they sought to reconcile the parties. This approach may have been successful in some cases, but in others put women at greater physical risk. The commander of Mtendeli camp, for example, told Human Rights Watch that it was better to counsel the parties in order to resolve domestic violence, rather than refer the abuser for prosecution. "Even in Tanzania, a man does not get arrested for beating his wife."145 At Kanembwa camp, the commander said refugee women depended ontheir husbands, and so, in domestic disputes, it was "best to reconcile them."146 Similarly in Mtabila camp, the commander, a woman, said her approach was to "pacify or reconcile," though she acknowledged the need to arrest and punish perpetrators. She stated: "Women are reluctant to come forward. We need to do more work to create an environment in which victims of domestic violence can feel safe enough to report cases to the police."147 Camp commanders were more prepared to condemn sexual violence than domestic violence, and they normally referred rape allegations to police for investigation.


Tanzanian police deployed to the refugee camps are responsible for maintaining law and order and preventing and investigating crime, including allegations of assault and rape. Human Rights Watch is concerned, however, that police did not take adequate measures either to prevent, or to respond to, violence against women refugees, and are affected by bias, a degree of corruption, a general lack of awareness about the seriousness of such abuses, and a lack of resources. Police attitudes toward domestic violence were disturbing and it was evident that many police officers did not really consider domestic violence a crime. In Kibondo, for example, rather than investigate reports of domestic violence, the police simply refer the victims to unhcr and other organizations for counseling.148

Some Burundian refugee women interviewed by Human Rights Watch complained that police were biased against complainants when the person accused was a Tanzanian national.149 Some police officers, however, told Human Rights Watch that no Tanzanians had been responsible for rapes of refugee women, but that was contradicted by other sources, including women who said they had beenraped.150 One police officer insisted to Human Rights Watch that "refugees were being raped by other refugees, not by Tanzanians."151 But some women whom we interviewed in May and June 1998 clearly alleged that they had been raped by local Tanzanians, and two months later no arrests had been made.152 Police told Human Rights Watch that they had no record of the case.153

Other women told Human Rights Watch that police refused to investigate complaints unless they were first paid a bribe. Soplange S., for example, whose case is reported above, said that police warned her husband to stop beating her only after she had paid them 4,000 Tanzanian shillings (U.S.$7.00), and then refused to take action when she went to them again but was unable to pay more money. She stated: "The police need money. They do not come to your rescue for nothing. When they ask for money, they use the word chai [the word for "tea" in Kiswahili] referring to money for a bribe."154 According to Annette G., whose case is also reported earlier, the police were not willing to help her:

I no longer bother to report the case to the police because they failed to assist me on previous occasions when my husband beat me. When I reported the case to the police at Kanembwa camp, they did not follow up on my report. My husband started beating me worse, knowing that he would not be arrested for beating me.155

Further, in Nduta camp, Virginie M. said the police would not arrest her husband, though he assaulted her many times, because he was friendly with a senior police officer:

Whenever I report my husband to the police for beating me, they do nothing to respond to my complaint. On several occasions I have gone to the Nduta camp police post to report the same case, but the police still leave my husband free to continue beating me, because my husband is a friend of the senior police officer.156

The deployment of approximately 250 more police in September 1999, it was hoped, would bring about improvements.157 However, the officers, each of whom was to spend six months in the camps, received no special training before their deployment on how to protect women refugees from sexual and domestic violence. unhcr's international security liaison officer said that training on policing refugee camps was planned, but some of the police officers interviewed by Human Rights Watch in November 1999 appeared to consider domestic violence of little relevance to them, and explained how they counseled victims to return to their husbands. One said she had advised a victim: "Your husband will be jailed. How will you raise the children by yourself, and how will you explain this to your in-laws in Burundi?"158 In another meeting, seven women police officers told Human Rights Watch that "domestic violence is not an offence in Tanzania,"159 indicating a need for them to be trained on how properly to respond to and address the problem. By contrast, police readily accepted the need to investigate rape cases in the camps.160

The Courts

Discriminatory attitudes and a shortage of personnel with expertise to handle violent crimes against women, as well as other resource problems, prevent the Tanzanian courts from responding adequately to domestic and sexual violence. In June 1998, the district court in Kibondo, to which the cases from the Mtendeli, Kanembwa, Nduta, and Mkugwa camps are referred, was being run by two male police prosecutors,161 a male magistrate, and a male court interpreter. None had been trained to investigate or prosecute domestic or sexual assault cases, and no female staff were available to record evidence from women victims. The magistrate, in fact, said that the two police prosecutors had not been trained to prosecute any crimes,162 and that poor investigations and inept prosecutions frequently resulted in the acquittal of defendants charged with raping refugee women.163

Despite his critique of the inadequate investigation and prosecution of sex crimes against refugee women, this magistrate expressed no wish to have domestic violence cases result in criminal prosecutions. On the contrary, he said, he referred all such cases for out-of-court settlement. He stated: "Only four domestic violence cases have so far been brought to the court. However, I referred them to the camps to be dealt with by unhcr officers and other ngos through counseling."164

It is not only the lack of awareness and resources or the attitudes of magistrates, police, and prosecutors that stand in the way of prosecutions, it is also women refugees' own reluctance to bring cases before the courts. The Ngara magistrate told Human Rights Watch that women victims of domestic violence did not wish their husbands to be incarcerated,165 so they often made complaints but then "withdrew" them after "reconciling" with their abusers. He commented: "If a person does not want to come forward, you cannot force her," and said that when police did try to bring cases to court, women would say, `We have reconciled,' leaving the police simply to warn the men not to assault her again.166

A similar picture emerged from the Kibondo, Kasulu, Ngara, and Kigoma courts, with the Kibondo magistrate complaining about the acute lack of the most basic materials, including paper to write on and to use for maintaining caserecords.167 A High Court judge told Human Rights Watch that it was difficult to attract trained lawyers and prosecutors to work in these areas due to their remoteness, so further undermining the administration of justice there.168

Conditions had scarcely improved when Human Rights Watch visited again in 1999: understaffing, poor material resources, and no female staff to take reports from female victims remained problems,169 and there were no training programs for court officials on how to deal with cases of violence against women refugees. unhcr, however, had provided some funding for basic resources, such as stationery for the courts, and had provided the police with a car to help in bringing witnesses and suspects to court, and radios to assist communication by magistrates and police.170

Much international support is required for Tanzania's law enforcement and judicial systems to provide protection, remedies, and redress to women refugees or other victims of sexual or domestic abuse. In addition, there is a critical need for police and law enforcement officials to be trained in refugee and human rights law, and for programs designed to prevent violence against women.

137 UNHCR figures as of March 2000.

138 Fearing the militarization of its borders and arguing that it had to protect Tanzanian citizens living close to the borders with Burundi and Rwanda, in late 1997 the Tanzanian government began forced round-ups of foreigners living in those areas and confined them to refugee camps in western Tanzania. For a detailed analysis of this issue, see Human Rights Watch, "In the Name of Security: Forced Round-Ups of Refugees in Tanzania," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 11, no. 4, July 1999.

139 Human Rights Watch interviews,mha officials, Bernard Mchomvu, MHA principal secretary; Caroline Mchome, Refugee Department legal protection head; Johnson Brahim, Refugee Department project head; and Patrick Tsere, principal refugee officer, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, June 10, 1998.

140 The camp commander position is purely administrative and the person has no authority to investigate crimes occurring in the camps. Rather, the camp commanders coordinate with the police to ensure security within the camps. In cases in which the camp commanders receive complaints of a criminal nature from the refugees, they are supposed to refer such complaints to the police for investigation.

141 Generally within Tanzania, the sungu sungu are neighborhood civil defense forces organized at the village level to assist the police to combat crime. They are selected by the community and represent them at local government meetings. They receive no formal training from the police or army and are not officially armed. A similar structure has been set up within the refugee camps, relying on male refugees to augment security within the camps.

142 Most refugee camps are divided into small units or "blocks" in a village-like style to facilitate unhcr's management of the camps. Each block can hold more than five hundred refugees, depending on the size of the camp. In Tanzania, most camps were divided into four blocks. unhcr had no formal statistics on the number of refugees per block.

143 See the section below on "The Response of unhcr," where details on the abashingatahe's criteria for choosing cases to be dealt with by the village council and those that are referred to unhcr and camp commanders are discussed.

144 Human Rights Watch interviewed the camp commanders for the following four camps: Kanembwa, Mtabila, Mtendeli, and Nduta, in May and June 1998.

145 Human Rights Watch interview, camp commander, Mtendeli camp, Tanzania, June 8, 1998.

146 Human Rights Watch interview, camp commander, Kanembwa camp, Tanzania, June 3, 1998.

147 Human Rights Watch interview, camp commander, Mtabila camp, Tanzania, May 28, 1998.

148 When we asked the police in the Kibondo camps why they did not investigate cases of domestic violence, a typical response was, "Domestic violence is dealt with by staff of the irc Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Project." The irc Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Project is a counseling and community education awareness project for refugees. The project is based in the Kibondo camps.

149 Human Rights Watch interview, group interview with Burundian women refugees in Mtendeli and Nduta camps, Tanzania, June 6 and June 7, 1998.

150 Human Rights Watch interview, police officers, police post, Mtendeli camp, Tanzania, June 8, 1998.

151 Human Rights Watch interview, police official, Kibondo district, Tanzania, June 9, 1998.

152 Human Rights Watch interview, Marie-Claire E., Mtendeli camp, Tanzania, June 9, 1998.

153 Human Rights Watch interview, police officer, Mtendeli camp, Tanzania, June 9, 1998.

154 Human Rights Watch interview, Soplange S., Kanembwa camp, Tanzania, June 3, 1998.

155 Human Rights Watch interview, Annette G., Kanembwa camp, Tanzania, June 3, 1998.

156 Human Rights Watch interview, Virginie M., Nduta camp, Tanzania, June 6, 1998.

157 Human Rights Watch interview, unhcr international security liaison officer, Kigoma, Tanzania, October 28, 1999.

158 Human Rights Watch interview, police officer, Nduta camp, Tanzania, November 8, 1999.

159 Human Rights Watch interview, police officers, Ngara camps, Tanzania, November 11, 1999.

160 Human Rights Watch interview, police officers, Kibondo and Ngara camps, Tanzania, October and November 1999. The senior police officer in Kasulu district was not available to be interviewed or to give us permission to interview police officers deployed to the Kasulu camps. As a result, we did not conduct police interviews in the Kasulu camps.

161 Police prosecutors are trained police officers who are upgraded to prosecute cases in court.

162 Human Rights Watch interview, magistrate, Kibondo district court, Tanzania, June 9, 1998.

163 Ibid.

164 Ibid.

165 Human Rights Watch interview, magistrate, Ngara district court, Tanzania, November 11, 1999.

166 Human Rights Watch interview, public prosecutor, Ngara district court, Tanzania, November 11, 1999.

167 Human Rights Watch interview, magistrate, Kibondo district court, Tanzania, June 9, 1998.

168 Human Rights Watch interview, judge of the High Court of Tanzania, Kigoma, May 26, 1998.

169 Human Rights Watch interviews, magistrate, Kasulu district court, Tanzania, November 2, 1999 and magistrate, Kibondo district court, November 8, 1999.

170 Ibid.

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