State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert on Nov. 9 said the U.S. is "troubled" by the Tanzanian government's anti-LGBTI crackdown.
"The United States government is deeply concerned over escalating attacks and legislative actions by the government of Tanzania that violate civil liberties and human rights, creating an atmosphere of violence, intimidation and discrimination," she said in a statement. "We are troubled by the continued arrests and harassment of marginalized persons, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and others who seek to exercise their rights to freedom of speech, association and assembly. Legislation is being used to restrict civil liberties for all."
Nauert said "the deteriorating state of human rights and rule of law in Tanzania inhibits development, economic prosperity, peace and security."
"We call on Tanzanian authorities to act decisively to safeguard the rights of civil society organizations, human rights defenders, journalists, health workers, political activists and all people in accordance with the Tanzanian constitution, the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, and the country's international and regional obligations and commitments," she added.
Nauert issued her statement less than two weeks after Paul Makonda, the regional commissioner for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's largest city, announced plans to create what Amnesty International described as an "interagency task force comprising members of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority, the police and the media to identify and arrest LGBTI people in the country." The Tanzanian government distanced itself from the proposal, but reports indicate 10 men were arrested on the island of Zanzibar on Nov. 3 after police received a "tip-off" about a same-sex wedding.
"There are reports of Tanzanian government officials calling for the arrest of LGBTI people and monitoring activity via social media," said the State Department in a travel advisory it issued on Nov. 3. "Employ sound security practices, including monitoring local and international news."
Tanzania is a country in East Africa that borders Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. Tanzania is among the more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.
The World Bank on Nov. 7 announced it has suspended visiting missions to the country over "the recent developments in Tanzania threatening harrassment and discrimination against the LGBT+ community."
The Associated Press on Nov. 5 reported the European Union has recalled its ambassador to Tanzania. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a Nov. 2 statement specifically criticized Makonda.
"Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Tanzania have already been subjected to growing violence, harassment and discrimination over the past two years," said Bachelet. "And those defending their rights to health, to a life free from discrimination, violence and arbitrary arrest have themselves been increasingly targeted, even arrested."
Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a Nov. 6 statementdescribed the Tanzanian government's decision to distance itself from Makonda's comments as "encouraging."
"If the government is sincere in rejecting Makonda's anti-rights messages, it needs to ensure that all people in Tanzania enjoy the same human rights regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity," added Ghoshal. "That means ending police repression and forced anal examinations, allowing LGBT organizations and LGBT-friendly health clinics to operate, and reforming laws that criminalize people for who they are or whom they love."
#Tanzania Security Alert: There are reports of Tanzanian Government Officials calling for the arrest of LGBTI people and monitoring activity via social media. Employ sound security practices including monitoring local and international news. https://t.co/mnMEfXodUM @AmEmbTZ pic.twitter.com/nekawi869Y
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) November 3, 2018
Nauert issued her Tanzania statement against the backdrop of continued criticism over the Trump administration's overall foreign policy and its anti-LGBTI policies in the U.S.
Trump earlier this year reportedly described African countries, Haiti and El Salvador as "shithole countries." The reported comment sparked widespread outrage in Africa and around the world.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.