The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) launched its 15th Annual Report on Wednesday 3rd April 2013 in fulfillment of its Constitutional requirement under Article 52 (2). The report which highlights activities of the UHRC in the year 2012 also among other things contains chapters on a cross section of human rights issues including access to justice for vulnerable persons; the right to health; an assessment of access to quality education; human rights concerns arising out of the floods and the Bududa landslides and the emerging human rights concerns.
The report also makes recommendations for improvements in the areas cited to the various stakeholders who among others include the government, security agencies, political actors, CSOs, the media and members of the public. The UHRC report generally underscores the principle that whereas the state as the duty bearer where it has the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the enjoyment of human rights, citizens too as rights holders have duties and obligations.
Although UHRC reports have over the years covered a number of human rights issues in the country, it has not been possible to cover ALL human rights or the entire constitutional mandate in any one given year. This is due to the inadequate resources. UHRC has consistently pointed out this challenge since its inception. The call for increased funding for UHRC is therefore premised on the need to fulfill its broad constitutional mandate within the context of the UN Paris Principles. National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) are required to work independent of control by any authority including the state and should be adequately funded by the state. As such the UHRC is committed to its mandate as exemplified by its ‘A’ status accreditation by the UN Human Rights Committee and the recent Award for best NHRI in Africa by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Cote d’ Voire.
Claims by some sections of the public that the report was overly critical of non-state actors particularly political pressure groups and civil society are to say the least diversionary and misleading. The report in our view gives an objective assessment of a number of human rights issues during the period and raises various human rights concerns against state actors including the alleged human rights violations registered by UHRC in 2012; with the highest being against the Uganda Police Force. Chapter 1 of the report clearly points out other respondents registered at UHRC as alleged violators of human rights who included private individuals, the UPDF, Local government, Uganda Prisons Services, ISO, CSOs among many others. On the contrary, the report highlights some of the major challenges faced by NGOs in 2012 and advocates for more space for their operations. Additionally Chapter 2 of the report which deals with an assessment of the conditions in places of detention inspected by UHRC during the period, outlines areas in which some progress has been made but also highlights the numerous human rights concerns which among others include congestion of prisons; cases of long and arbitrary detention; cases of torture and solitary confinement; cases of detention of children with adults; cases of children detained with incarcerated mothers; provision of HIV/AIDS services in detention facilities; sanitation and personal hygiene; inmates detained over civil debts and insufficient food, bedding and clothing.
The report contains Chapter 5 on emerging human rights concerns which include the plight of teachers and its impact on the right to education; the working conditions of health workers and its impact on attainment of the right to health and human rights concerns arising out of delayed payment of salaries and pension. The chapter also highlights freedom of assembly and the human rights concerns arising from actions of the political pressure group A4C/4GC and freedom of expression and the media. Other human rights concerns discussed under the chapter include an assessment of the operating environment for non-governmental organisations during the period under review; corruption and human rights; oil and gas Bills and mob justice.
Although the report covers other equally important human rights issues such as the plight of teachers; health workers; freedom of expression and the media; operating environment for NGOs and mob justice among others, the section on actions of A4C and 4GC has generated a lot of debate in both the conventional and social media. UHRC welcomes healthy debate; but realizes that it is out of context. We therefore urge all concerned people to read the full report, not just the popular version to appreciate the context in which the actions of A4C and 4GC were discussed. The report can be accessed at www.uhrc.ug or from all UHRC offices across the country.
In light of the current debate therefore, the UHRC wishes to make a few clarifications on the contents of the report particularly on the section of A4C and 4GC to help the readers to put the debate into its right perspective which we believe will subsequently contribute to improvement of the human rights situation in the country:
- The report gives a background on the inception of A4C in April 2011 and the reasons cited by its members for its formation which they said was mainly to call government attention to the economic hardships at the time and how the group was in April 2012 rebranded to 4GC after it was declared unlawful by the Attorney General when he evoked Section 56 (2) (c) of the Penal Code Act; a declaration which some members of A4C challenged in Petition No. 32 of 2012 filed with the Constitutional Court.
- The report also outlines the implications of A4C and 4GC actions on the enjoyment of human rights and freedoms in Uganda which were categorized into positive developments by the various actors during the A4C and 4GC civic actions including increased participation of the public in issues of governance; improved incidence of police restraint in the use of lethal weapons during policing of violent protests; improved efforts by the judiciary to grant bail to suspects of crimes related to civic actions and efforts by the media to expose errant state agents on the one hand and irresponsible politicians and citizens on the other during the confrontations.
- The report further enumerates some of the human rights concerns that arose from actions of A4C and 4GC. These among others included loss of life; damage and loss of property; disruption of economic activities and livelihoods in Kampala and other urban centers where activities of A4C and 4GC took place, including those of innocent people who had nothing to do with the protests and disruption of peoples’ freedom of movement when some roads were blocked. The report cites other concerns such as cases of provocation against the police by protesters who not only pelted stones and hurled insults at the police but in some instances assaulted other members of the public who were not part of the civic action and the use of inciting language by some members of A4C and 4GC which in some instances inflamed the situation.
- Other human rights concerns highlighted in the report under the section include the use of disproportionate force by some police and other security personnel to quell violent protests and the use of preventive arrest by police which had been declared unlawful by the Kasangati Grade One Magistrate Jessica Chemery among others.
The report also makes a number of recommendations for adoption by both state and non-state actors, aimed at ensuring that they all act responsibly in the exercise and enjoyment of the freedom of assembly. Recommendations in the report among others include:
- the use of the UHRC Guidelines on Public Demonstrations which were developed with input from all stakeholders including political parties and security agencies to ensure orderly and peaceful demonstrations in Uganda;
- urging government to increase UHRC funding to facilitate the fulfillment of its Constitutional obligation to provide continuous civic education for the citizens;
- calling on security agencies to make public the disciplinary actions against errant security personnel in order to build trust among the public;
- urging political leaders to desist from issuing irresponsible statements that incite the public and ensuring that their demand for rights go hand in hand with the fulfillment of their duties and obligations; and
- urging the media to practice responsible journalism at all times.
The UHRC once again reiterates the fact that the report without any bias, discrimination or favouritism, raises a number of human rights concerns directed to government, government departments, security agencies, CSOs, political groups and members of the public, among many others stakeholders and makes suggestions for interventions, in an effort to enhance respect, protection and promotion of human rights and freedoms in the country. The report further points out some of the human rights areas in which progress has been registered, while highlighting those that require improvement.
The UHRC therefore, wishes to re-assure all Ugandans that it shall continue to work and act as an independent national human rights institution offering objective and balanced analysis and commentaries on human rights issues in the country as they occur.
Med S.K Kaggwa
Chairperson, Uganda Human Rights Commission
Dated : Monday 15th April 2013