Still No Justice for 2020 Zanzibar Election Violence

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Residents line up to vote before the deadline in Zanzibar, Tanzania, October 28, 2020.
© 2020 AP Photo

Today marks two years since Tanzania’s most recent general elections, when state security forces, alongside a government-aligned militia, patrolled the streets of the semi-autonomous island archipelago of Zanzibar, beating and harassing residents, firing teargas, and shooting at people indiscriminately. The security forces also broke into people’s homes, and arbitrarily arrested opposition supporters, detaining and torturing them for weeks. The violence happened in the days leading up to the polls and afterwards.

Human Rights Watch found that the security forces killed at least 14 people, including a 16-year-old student and a pregnant woman, and injured at least another 55 people.

The violence intensified as electoral officials counted the votes and supporters of Zanzibar’s main opposition party accused the ruling party of election fraud.

Although Zanzibar’s President Hussein Ali Mwinyi allocated 10,000,000 Tanzania shillings (about US$4,290) in January 2022 to treat some of the people injured by election violence, the fund benefited only 4 of the 55 people injured.

The Tanzanian authorities have yet to seriously investigate or prosecute anyone for the violence. The father of 18-year-old Said Makame Ali, who was fatally shot by security officers he encountered clashing with people on the streets, said that his family was still awaiting justice and compensation. The family of Said Salum Sulaiman, 34, initially heard that the officer who shot and killed Sulaiman was arrested, but then learned weeks later he had merely been transferred. The family has not heard anything about the case since.

The Tanzanian and Zanzibar governments need to get serious about ending the cycles of election-related violence in Zanzibar. The authorities should credibly investigate these abuses and appropriately prosecute those implicated in the violence, whatever their position or rank. They should fulfill Tanzania’s obligations under domestic and international law by providing regular public updates on the progress of investigations, and ensure a transparent and participatory justice and compensation process. The victims of violence and their families are entitled to justice.

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