A Watershed Case for African Human Rights: Mtikila and others v. Tanzania
Mtikila and others v. Tanzania was a watershed case heard before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Court rendered its judgement on 14 June 2013, with a further ruling on reparations on 13 June 2014. The case concerns three applicants: two Tanzanian NGOs, the Tanganyika Law Society and Human Rights Centre, and Reverend Christopher R. Mtikila. The Applicant’s cases were broadly the same; that current Tanzanian election laws prohibiting independent candidates from running for public office are in breach of various articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the rule of law.
The case is a watershed moment for African human rights as it is the first case considered by the Court on its merits. Also of significance is that the Court found in favour of the applicants. In addition, the Court’s subsequent Reparations Ruling was the first time the Court considered the issue of compensation and reparations.
In 1992, amendments to the Tanzanian Constitution required all candidates for presidential, parliamentary and local government elections to be members of and sponsored by a political party, effectively banning independent candidates from running for public office. Mtikila spent the next 18 years pursuing cases through the Tanzanian domestic courts to have the ban overturned.
On 14 June 2013 the Court delivered the Judgement and unanimously found that Tanzania’s ban on independent candidates had violated Mtikila’s Article 10 (free association) and Article 13(1) (right to participate freely in government) Charter rights, and, by majority, that the same ban violated Mtikila’s Article 2 (right to enjoy rights in the Charter) and Article 3 (equality before the law) Charter rights. In the Judgement, recalling its power to make orders of compensation or reparation, the Court noted that Mtikila had reserved his right to elaborate on his claim for compensation or reparation but had not done so. The Court therefore did not make a finding on the issue, but did call upon Mtikila, if he so wished, to exercise this right.
On 13 June 2014, following written submissions from Mtikila and Tanzania, the Court considered the issue of compensation and costs and rendered its Reparations Ruling. The Court found that despite having the power to make orders for compensation or reparation, Mtikila had failed to provide adequate evidence of the losses and expenses claimed and therefore rejected his claims.
The Court also noted that Tanzania continued to maintain that the Judgement was wrong. The Court expressed its “concern” at this position, especially since it was compounded by Tanzania’s failure to report to the Court on the measures it is taking to comply with the Judgement. The Court ordered Tanzania to report to the Court within 6 months from the date of the ruling on the implementation of the Judgement (around January 2015).
This case contains many firsts – it is the first case to be considered on its merits, the first finding in favour of the applicant and the first matter to consider the issue of compensation and reparations. Achievement in this case must be put in context of the restrictive rules on direct access for individuals and NGOs to the Court, meaning only seven African Union member states currently allow their citizens direct access to the Court.
However, through this case the Court demonstrated that once a case is admissible, the Court is willing to consider it in detail and is unafraid to find in favour of the applicant. The Court’s clear position on its power to award damages should be also be welcomed. Of most concern going forward in the new era of compliance is Tanzania’s apparent unwillingness to acknowledge its requirement to comply with the Judgement. Clearly, in view of Tanzania’s responses so far the issue of compliance should be of serious concern to the Court, and changes to Tanzania’s electoral laws appear a while off.