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Chrizostom Benyoma vs United Republic of Tanzania

On January 04th, 2016, Mr Chrizostom Benyoma, applicant, filed before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Court) an application instituting proceedings against the United Republic of Tanzania concerning alleged violations of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Charter) in its Articles 3(1) and (2), 7 (1) (c) and (d).

Indeed, Mr. Benyoma, a Tanzanian citizen, was serving a life sentence at the time of the commencement of the proceedings for rape of a minor under 15 years of age, committed on January 20th, 2000. The judgement was pronounced on February 28th, 2000 by the Karagwe District Court in Kayanga. The applicant appealed this decision successively to the Bukoba High Court and the Mwanza Court of Appeal. Both courts upheld the judgment undertaken.

On February 11th, 2013, the applicant lodged an appeal for review of the Statement of Appeal, which had not yet been decided at the time of the institution of proceedings before the Court. Mr Benyoma maintains that his right to a fair trial within a reasonable time was not respected throughout the proceedings before the national courts. 

On November 21st, 2019, the Republic of Tanzania deposited the instruments of withdrawal of the Court’s declaration of jurisdiction to receive applications from individuals and non-governmental organizations. In issuing its decision on September 30th, 2021, the Court has been faithful to its consistent jurisprudence of dealing with all cases enrolled in the Registry before the date of entry into force of the withdrawal of the declaration.

As a preliminary point, Tanzania raised objections relating to the lack of jurisdiction of the Court and inadmissibility of the application. After examining the matters, the Court concluded that the case was admissible and declared itself competent to hear it. It then turned to the merits of the case:

  • As regards, first of all, to the alleged violation of the right to a fair trial protected by Article 7(1) of the Charter, the applicant submits that:
    • He was deprived of his right to have his case heard: he claims that his confession was collected improperly, which the respondent State defends by pointing out that the procedure laid down in Article 228(2) of the Tanzanian Penal Code had been scrupulously respected. After examining the facts of the case, the Court concluded that there was no evidence that Mr. Benyoma had been deprived of the right to have his case heard;
    • He did not have adequate representation before the courts pursuant to section 7(1)(c) and 8(1) of the Charter, which he said should invalidate his sentence. Tanzania countered that free legal aid is not automatic for crimes not deemed “serious”. The Court recalled, however, its consistent case-law according to which it interprets Article 7 (1) (c) of the Charter in the light of Article 14(3)(d) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In addition, when the accused are indigent and the possible sentences in question may be severe, legal aid must be provided to them whether they apply for it or not. Under this condition, Tanzania has breached its obligations under Article 7(1)(c) of the Charter;
    • He was deprived of his right to be tried within a reasonable time, provided for in Article 7(1)(d) of the Charter. However, the Court did not agree.
  • Finally, as regards to the alleged violation of the rights to equality before the law and equal protection of the law protected by Articles 3(1) and (2) of the Charter, the Court notes that the Applicant has not shown that he
    was treated differently from other convicts like him on the basis of a guilty plea to rape.

The Court ordered the payment of 30,000 Tanzanian Shilling in compensation for moral damage caused by the lack of legal aid throughout the proceedings before the national courts.

Judgment of 30-09-2021.pdf

This summary is provided for informational purposes only, does not involve the responsibility of Dome and should in no way be used as a substitute for a careful reading of the judgment and order of the case.