Martine Christian Msuguri vs United Republic of Tanzania

On September 09th, 2016, Mr Martine Christian Msuguri (the Applicant) filed an Application instituting proceedings before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Court or the ACHPR) against the United Republic of Tanzania (the Defendant State) for alleged violations of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Charter) in its Articles 4, 5 and 7.

Mr. Martine Christian Msuguri was arrested for the murders of 3 children in the village of Businde on December 18th, 2003, when he was a soldier and trainer of a branch of defense of the Tanzanian people. He had been tried and convicted by the High Court of Tanzania sitting in Bukoba. He had been sentenced to death by hanging. This decision was confirmed by the Court of Appeal on March 11th, 2013 and December 14th, 2018. At the time of the institution of the present proceedings, he was being held in Butimba Central Prison awaiting execution.

Although the applicant did not request provisional measures, the Court considered that the risk of his sentence being served was an extremely serious situation, as well as a risk of irreparable damage. Accordingly, the Court considers that the circumstances of the case warrant an order for interim measures, in order to preserve the status quo pending the decision on the main application.

Order of 18-11-2016.pdf

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 December 1st, 2022, 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, the alleged violation of the right to life (Article 4 of the Charter), the Applicant argues that the mandatory death penalty violates the right to life, as it infringes the right to an individualized sentencing process insofar as it does not take into account the circumstances of both the offender and the commission of the offence, such as mental disabilities, as is the case here. The applicant notes that he submitted a psychiatric assessment report which was rejected by the Tanzanian judges. The respondent State counters that the domestic courts have examined all the material adduced and concluded beyond reasonable doubt that the defence of mental deficiency could not succeed. The Court notes that the issue to be decided boils down to the particular circumstances of this case, namely whether the applicant’s right to life was violated as a result of the failure of the domestic courts to take into account all aspects of the insanity invoked as a defence in sentencing to death. After review, the ACHPR concluded that all defences had indeed been considered, but that the fact that the death penalty was the only punishment under the Tanzanian Penal Code for the crime of murder constituted a violation of Article 4 of the Charter.
  • As regards, next, the alleged violation of a fair trial (Article 7 of the Charter), the Applicant alleges that his right to a fair trial was violated because of the time he spent in detention pending trial and the fact that he was not provided with judicial representation during the proceedings. The defendant State did not reply on these points. After examination, the Court concluded that 6 years elapsed between the Applicant’s arrest and his trial, as Tanzania had not provided any justification for this delay, it had failed to comply with the obligation to try the applicant within a reasonable time. The Court rejected, however, the applicant’s plea concerning non-effective judicial representation.
  • Finally, with regard to the alleged violation of the right to dignity and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 5 of the Charter), the Applicant alleges that his right protected by this provision of the Charter was violated by the fact that he was held in pre-trial detention for more than six (6) years on death row and lived in deplorable conditions of confinement. The Court emphasised the causal link between this delay and the suffering which the Applicant alleged to have experienced. Consequently, the Court considers that the defendant State violated the Applicant’s right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, protected by Article 5 of the Charter, with regard to the duration of pre-trial detention.

The Court awarded the Applicant the sum of 7,000,000 Tanzanian shillings as compensation for non-pecuniary damage resulting from the violations found free of tax within 6 months and ordered the State to take all available steps to hold a new trial to retry the case in respect of the applicant’s conviction through a procedure which does not allow for the compulsory imposition of death penalty.

Judgement of 01-12-2022.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.