The Chief Justice Bert Mugunda Katureebe has applauded the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) for taking this year’s Human Rights Day celebrations a notch higher. Katureebe, who was the chief guest at the event on Monday 10th December, highlighted the importance of the day as one of the avenues though which human rights defenders can speak out with one voice.
“Let me take this opportunity to appreciate the Uganda Human Rights Commission and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for annually spearheading the mobilization of key partners including Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to plan and implement selected activities to mark the International Human Rights Day in Uganda. Our being here today, therefore is to reflect on the core and enduring importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and to remind and engage everyone to put its powerful words into practice,” the head of the third arm of government said.
“We are also here to speak out and take a stand on human rights because we all have a role to play in every sphere of our lives,” he said.
He condemned the recent acts of torture and violent arrest of suspects warning that lasting peace, security and good governance cannot be achieved without respect for human rights. The Chief Justice drew a disturbing image of Uganda during former President Idd Amin Dada’s regime and cautioned against violent events such as those of the recent Arua fracas. He narrated that until recently, whenever a Ugandan would go abroad and introduce him or herself, the response they would get would be Idd Amin.
“A few weeks ago, I was at a conference and when I introduced myself, one of the Chief Justices from one of the Islands quizzed; ‘Ooh where there was the Arua fracas?’ We cannot continue to be defined by such negative acts of human rights violations,” Katureebe counseled.
He said human rights violations in Uganda is in form of torture and ill-treatment, poverty, sexual and gender-based violence, property deprivation, poor education, inadequate access to health, limited access to justice, harmful cultural practices, discrimination and the recent brutal arrest of suspects by gun-wielding security personnel. “Other most damaging of the harmful cultural practices include child marriages and female genital mutilation. It is therefore imperatives that, periodically, we take stock of where we have fallen short,” Justice Katureebe said.
The celebrations which were also held in commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which marked 70 years this year since it was passed by the UN General Assembly in 1948 were kicked off with a procession from Railway Grounds on Kampala Road where the main function was held.
The Chairperson of the Commission Mr. Med Kaggwa highlighted what the Commission had done to safeguard the rights of people including the suspects illegally detained. He revealed how among other efforts the Commission had in the recent past rescued suspects from Kireka Special Investigations Division who had been detained there longer than they should have been; regular engagements with the leadership of security agencies and securing access to suspects of the recent Arua fracas who had been held incommunicado in order to mitigate violations of human rights of the victims. He called for the full implementation of the Anti-Torture Act which provides for torture perpetrators to be personally accountable.
The Secretary to the Commission Mr. Patrick Mabiiho Nyakaana thanked the guests for honoring UHRC invitation to participate in the event and partners from human rights organisations for their tireless effort of contributing to the enormous task of defending human rights in the country. He said the function was dubbed a Human Rights Gala because it had brought together human rights defenders to commemorate 70 years of the UDHR. He said the Commission and partners had jointly carried out a series of activities whose climax was the Human Rights Gala held on Monday 10th December 2018 at the Railway Grounds. The Commission together with partners had mobilized various sections of the populations including children, the youth, vulnerable groups and artists to take part in various themed human rights activities like essay and drawing competitions; art; dance and other activities. The main celebration at Railway grounds also featured an award giving ceremony for the winners of human rights essay and drawing competitions and the official launch of the first ever Human Rights Museum/Gallery in Uganda.
“It is also the day when the Country joins the rest of the world to celebrate when the UDHR was adopted so it is not just celebration but evaluate of how far we have gone in defending human rights,” he said. He appreciated the various partners and foreign Embassies in Uganda for their contributions and being their active participation during the event.
On behalf of the Civil Society organizations Mr. Patrick Kaboyo the Secretary Board of Directors HURINET appreciated the existing partnership between UHRC and CSOs especially HURINET which he said is composed of over 70 member organisations. “As this year’s theme “Stand up for Rights” goes, we shall continue to stand up for human rights despite threats of the narrowing space for NGOs in Uganda,” he said.
He also regretted the continuous incidents in the country that limit freedom of expression, association and assembly, and the brutality meted out on journalists. “We shall continue to hold the state accountable for the rampant killings, long detentions, torture and other human rights violations. We urge the UHRC to interest itself in break-ins of NGO offices,” he said. Mr Kaboyo also noted in his speech that over 262 million children drop out of school due to failure by schools to provide meals to them. He on behalf of other civil society organisations demanded that the State prioritizes the provision of at least a meal to every child going to school as a way of realising the right to food which he said was one of the economic, social and cultural rights. He advised that providing meals at schools in Uganda can be achieved through the existing Operation Wealth Creation by prioritizing school gardens that can be linked to revitalization of district farm gardens.
The Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee of Parliament Hon. Jovah Kamateka who was also the Chief Walker alluded to the words of Nelson Mandella saying that; to deny people their rights is to deny them humanity. “Parliament acknowledges the great role played by human rights defenders like the UHRC and OHCHR and we ask them to come up with a mechanism to ensure that debates, motions, bills and budgets guided by the Human Rights Based Approach,” she said.
She also said that through her Committee, parliament had taken steps in strengthening the observance of human rights in Uganda by ensuring that every committee of parliament has a section on gender and equity compliance as well as human rights compliance. She highlighted a number of human rights bills including the judicial administration bills that were already before Parliament. She urged human rights defenders to enhance advocacy and lobbying for cabinet to adopt National Action Plan (NAP) policy for the benefit of the country.
Hon Kamateka also noted that although Uganda has got a number of good laws and policies on human rights, their implementation by Ministries, Government Departments and Authorities (MDAs) is still very low. Kamateeka said Parliament is equally concerned about increasing acts of criminality, torture in the country and called for stricter implementation of Anti-Torture Act which will bring perpetrators to book. “We also need to step up the fight against corruption which has curtailed the enjoyment of a number of rights and I am happy the President has today joined the fight,” she said referring to Anti-Corruption Day that was being concurrently held at Kololo Grounds today where the President was the Chief Guest.
On his part, the Head of the UN OHCHR Ayeda Robert Kotchani read the statement of the Chairperson of UNHCHR from Geneva revealing that the UDHR has passed from set of rules to basis of international law. “Everyone is entitled to all freedoms in the UDHR without discrimination. Gender is a concept in every article in the declaration. It uses everyone or no one. This shows that women played a very important role in developing declaration. The UDHR sets limits on the powerful and gives hope for the powerless,” he noted in the statement he read. He said this year’s global theme is; “We are Born Free and Equal” but today every right is being threatened. “We all need to stand up energetically not just for ourselves but other human being,” he said.
Foreign Embassies in Uganda including Belgium, Norway, France, Sweden, Iceland and France, the European Union were represented at the event by their Ambassadors or other representatives. The Ambassador of Sweden to Uganda, H.E Per Lindgarde spoke at the function on behalf of development partners who support programmes of the Commission and CSOs in the area of defending human rights in the country.
Other notable personalities at the function were Ms Margaret Ssekagya of the Human Rights Center, the Commissioner for Youth from the Ministry of Gender Ms. Christine Amongin Aporu, the Police Spokesperson Emilian Kayima and representatives from Equal Opportunities Commission and the DPP among others.
The day’s activities were financially supported by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, OHCHR, Inter Aid and the Equal Opportunities Commission. The Commission also received financial support to launch the establishment of the Human Rights Museum/Gallery from the Embassy of France in Uganda. Other key partners who played a critical role in organizing this year’s UDHR commemoration day activities included HURINET-U, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Human Rights Center-Uganda, African Center for Media Excellence and ACTV.
The function, which was attended by over 300 guests from a cross section of the population including officers from the Uganda Prisons Service, members of vulnerable groups such as refugees and Albinos to confirm the relevance of the commemoration theme, the media and members of the general public was also spiced with human rights thematic entertainments in the form of dance and poems.