Tanzania: Independent Commission of Inquiry into Acts of Violence against Dr. Stephen Ulimboka Needed

Press release

FIDH and its member organisation, the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), condemn the acts of violence committed on 26 June 2012 against Dr. Stephen Ulimboka, Chairperson of the Special Committee of Doctors, and call for the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry mandated to shed light on the circumstances of this aggression so that its authors can be brought to justice. Dr. Ulimboka was kidnapped and beaten while leading a strike by doctors seeking improved working conditions in public hospitals. FIDH and LHRC call on the Tanzanian authorities and the medical corps to act responsibly in managing the persisting crisis between them in order to avoid a stalemate.

On 26 June 2012, unknown individuals arrested Dr. Ulimboka at Leader’s Club Area in Kinondoni District, in Dar es Salaam, and forced him into a car where they covered his face with a piece of black cloth and tied him with rope. They beat him severely using different objects such as the butts of guns and sharp-edged weapons. Dr. Ulimboka was found, alone and seriously injured, on 27 June in the forest at Mabwepande. He was brought to the Bunju Police Station, then to Muhimbili Orphathedic Institute (MOI), where his condition was described as critical.

This aggression, of a rare violence, raises serious concerns about the consequences of the persisting deadlock between the medical corps and the authorities. Since January 2012, hundreds of doctors have been involved in a strike demanding improved working conditions, including the delivery of all the necessary medicine and equipment within hospitals, a salary increase as well as an increase in the overtime allowance, medical insurance and risk allowances. Despite discussions so far, the parties have been unable to reach a long-lasting agreement, a situation which seriously affects the quality of the service provided in hospitals. As the Chairperson of Special Committee of Doctors, Dr. Ulimboka was particularly vocal in the national media to present the position of the striking doctors. He also denounced, on several occasions, the stalled negotiations with the authorities.

This aggression has constituted a turning point in the discussions opposing for almost six months the doctors and the authorities. If no concrete and serious action is taken immediately to ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted and tried, we fear the complete rupture of trust between both parties, which would be detrimental to the thousands of Tanzanian in need of medical care” declared Helen Kijo-Bisimba, Executive Director of LHRC.

While the Tanzanian authorities have ordered an investigation into the attack on Dr. Ulimboka, questions remain about the impartiality of those nominated to conduct such an investigation. FIDH and LHRC call on the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to ensure that all responsible actors are brought to justice.

This investigation must be properly conducted to avoid any further escalation of the conflict between the authorities and the medical corps. Recent events have indeed illustrated the unfortunate deterioration of the relationship between both parties: on July 10, 2012, Dr. Namala Mkopi, President of the Medical Association of Tanzania (MAT) appeared before the Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court in Dar es Salaam to answer charges of inciting doctors to commit an offence and disobeying a lawful order [1] and on July 11, 319 intern doctors have been de-registered from the Medical Council of Tanganyika for their involvement in the strike.

FIDH and LHRC recall that 16 human rights defenders, including prominent members of LHRC, were arrested in Dar es Salaam on 9 February 2012 and charged with “unlawful assembly” for their participation in a demonstration on 8 February 2012, which was organised to force settlement of the crisis between government and doctors. So far, the charges against them remain pending [2].

Since the beginning of this unprecedented crisis in Tanzania, civil, political, economic and social rights have been violated at the same time. Today, all parties must act responsibly in managing their disagreements so as to prevent the situation from escalating into a much deeper crisis" declared Mr. Arnold Tsunga, FIDH Vice-President.

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