In a welcome step, in January 2002, Tanzania's President Benjamin Mkapa announced the creation of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations committed by Tanzanian security forces in Zanzibar a year before. In January 2001, the government security forces violently suppressed political demonstrations in Zanzibar that had been called to protest irregularities in the national elections of October 2000. Security forces-primarily the police, aided by the coastguard and the army-opened fire and assaulted thousands of unarmed demonstrators and others. In the following days, the security forces, joined by ruling party officials and militia, went on a rampage, indiscriminately arresting, beating, and sexually abusing island residents. Human Rights Watch estimates that at least thirty-five people were killed, and over 600 injured. Some two thousand Zanzibaris fled to nearby Kenya.
The January 2001 abuses were the most egregious event to date in a pattern of repression by the Tanzanian national authorities, including the local Zanzibar government, against legitimate political opposition on the semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar. The United Republic of Tanzania was formed in 1964 as a union between mainland Tanganyika and the Indian Ocean islands of Unguja and Pemba, which together comprise Zanzibar. Longstanding political tensions have become more overtly exacerbated since Tanzania underwent a transition to multi-party politics in 1992.
Following widespread, internationally condemned election fraud in Zanzibar during the October 2000 national elections, Tanzania's major opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF), called for countrywide protests to take place on January 27, 2001. The CUF also demanded constitutional reform. Broadly supported by other opposition parties, these protests-the largest in the nation's history-were generally peaceful, although there were several incidents of police harassment.
In Zanzibar, however, it was a far different story, and a much more ugly affair. Under orders to stop the demonstrations, including through the use of force, security forces shot and attacked demonstrators in four towns: the Pemba Island towns of Wete, Micheweni, and Chake Chake, and the capital, Zanzibar Town on Unguja Island (also known as Zanzibar Island). Organizers had planned a peaceful demonstration, ordering participants to arrive unarmed and to wear white armbands to signify their peaceful intentions. In response, and beginning several days before the planned event, the Tanzanian authorities declared the demonstrations illegal and undertook a campaign to scare off potential demonstrators, threatening them with violence and warning worshippers to disperse from mosques immediately after Friday prayers. Foreshadowing the violence to follow, the day before the planned protest, security forces shot and killed two persons, a Muslim religious leader and a worshipper, outside a mosque in Zanzibar town.
The next day, January 27, as thousands of demonstrators, mostly unarmed, walked peacefully toward designated meeting grounds, security forces on both islands set up roadblocks and ordered them to disperse. When the demonstrators stood their ground, remaining peaceful, the police and army let loose a barrage of teargas, beatings, and shootings, sometimes firing without warning and often pursuing people fleeing the scene. Some of the shooting was done from above by snipers or from a helicopter that circled the gatherings, further terrifying citizens running for cover. As the crowds dispersed, authorities assaulted some of the wounded, and prevented those injured from receiving medical care. With police and intelligence officers controlling hospitals, some of the injured who sought help there were also denied access to medical care. As one eyewitness described it: "the bullets were raining."
Following the assaults, security forces on the islands rounded up hundreds in house-to-house sweeps characterized by looting, terrorizing, and sexual abuse. Opposition CUF party-supporters and Pembans were particularly singled out. Several CUF offices were also ransacked. In some cases, members of the security forces made anti-Islamic statements in the course of abusing the largely Muslim Zanzibari population. Hundreds of demonstrators-many of them severely injured-spent days in jail, often held without charge and physically abused while in custody. More than 2,000 Zanzibaris fled to neighboring Kenya. While most have since returned without incident following a government amnesty, to date, some two hundred remain in Kenya or Somalia.
The specificity and scale of the January 2001 violence indicated a concerted effort to target the opposition party where it had widespread support-Zanzibar. There is no evidence that demonstrators planned any violent actions; yet, significant security preparations prior to January 27 suggest that high-level government and security officials planned and ordered the crackdown in advance. Perpetrators included the police and armed forces, assisted by local authorities and ruling party militia members.
At the time, the events triggered a public outcry in Tanzania, but no government apology or inquiry followed. In fact, Tanzanian officials praised the perpetrators for a job well done. Tanzanian President Mkapa publicly congratulated security officers for what he described as an excellent job in restoring order in the islands. The findings of Human Rights Watch contradict the official government version. Tanzanian officials claim that demonstrators tried to take over police stations and mount an armed rebellion. In an official release, authorities put the death toll at twenty-three (including one police officer). They further claim that police who utilized lethal force did so without orders, and that the deaths were caused by poor training and bad luck. Human Rights Watch's findings, however, suggest that the numbers of those killed and injured as a result of the government's actions exceed the official toll, and were the result, in large part, of an orchestrated government policy to violently suppress the opposition protests.
On October 10, 2001, in an important step, Tanzania's ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party entered into an agreement on reform with the CUF opposition. An essential ingredient of the proposed reforms is to separate government and ruling party infrastructures. If implemented, the changes will affect the Zanzibar constitution, the electoral commission, and the Zanzibar judiciary. The accord called for a permanent voter register to be set up, for electoral laws and policies to be reformed, and for the state-owned Zanzibar media to give equitable coverage to all parties. The pact also provided for the creation of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the violence that occurred in Zanzibar during January 2001. On January 16, 2002, an eight-person team was appointed by the Tanzanian president to investigate the January 2001 incident, to propose to the government steps that could be taken to provide redress, and to put into place preventive measures. The commission is due to present its findings and recommendations to the government by July 2002.
In the period since January 2001, there has been little sustained pressure by the international community to call on the Tanzanian government to punish those responsible for the abuses of January 2001, or to implement fundamental democratic reforms. At the time, the international response to the events in Zanzibar consisted of public condemnation, but little more. Most donor governments had already suspended aid to the Zanzibar government because of the improperly conducted 1995 and 2000 elections. However, the international community has been reluctant to take as strong a stand with the Tanzanian union government. The Tanzanian government continues to receive foreign assistance, and Tanzania recently qualified for enhanced debt relief from the International Monetary Fund under the Highly-Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.
The constitutional arrangement uniting what were formerly the independent states of Tanganyika and Zanzibar makes law enforcement and security the responsibility of the union government. It is surprising therefore that the international community has chosen to address the security force violations committed in Zanzibar largely by cutting off aid to the islands. Further international action related to the rule of law in Zanzibar should be directed at the Tanzanian union government, as has been done to the Zanzibar government, to ensure respect for human rights.
Human Rights Watch welcomes the creation of the new commission of inquiry as a first step toward reestablishing the rule of law in Zanzibar, but cautions that this must be followed by a thorough investigation and public report, as well as government action to bring to justice those officials responsible for the serious abuses that occurred in Zanzibar over a year ago. To date, shamefully, no government official has been prosecuted or punished for their role in these abuses. On the contrary, several senior police officers were promoted shortly after the demonstrations. Moreover, at least eight police officers who had refused to participate in the violence were arrested and later fired for their lack of enthusiasm.
Human Rights Watch's findings show that Tanzanian security and state officials were responsible for serious violations of domestic and international law. Security forces were responsible for extrajudicial executions and an excessive use of force resulting in killings and assaults of unarmed civilians, including those assisting the wounded. Other abuses included assaults on and denial of medical care to the wounded; torture and mistreatment, including rape and sexual abuse; arbitrary arrests and detentions without trial; looting and the destruction of property; and denial of free expression, assembly and association in forbidding a peaceful opposition demonstration to occur in Zanzibar.
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This report is based on testimonies collected by the Africa division of Human Rights Watch in Zanzibar and Dar-es-Salaam during July and August 2001. The report also draws on material gathered from interviews with refugees in Shimoni, Kenya, conducted in February 2001. The findings are based on some 160 interviews with victims and witnesses, as well as government officials (including police officers), aid workers, and ruling and opposition party members. Human Rights Watch also obtained several minutes of video footage showing police shooting into the crowd and beating unarmed civilians in Wete. Witnesses confirmed the footage as being from January 27, 2001. Additionally, the location was identifiable as Wete town, which has never been subject to police shootings except on that day. The names of most of those interviewed, and in some instances the exact locations, are being withheld to safeguard their security.
In January 2002, Human Rights Watch returned to Tanzania for meetings with government officials to discuss our findings and recommendations prior to the publication of this report. We met with Ministry of Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Bernard Mchomvu, along with Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police Shafi, and Senior Superintendent of Police King'wai. The Ministry of Defense declined to meet with us.
The exact numbers of those killed and injured in the violence remain unknown, and the numbers provided by the government and opposition differ. The government claims that twenty-three persons were killed, eighty-two injured (including ten police officers), and 352 arrested, while CUF claims that sixty-seven people were killed. Human Rights Watch was able to verify at least thirty-five dead, and more than six hundred injured. The figures used by Human Rights Watch in this report are an approximation based on government and press figures as a starting point, and have been cross-checked with witnesses.