The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) which is the national human rights institution constitutionally established to promote and protect human rights in Uganda is deeply concerned about some of the recent developments in the country that directly or indirectly curtail the full enjoyment of human rights and pose serious threats to the fundamental principles of fairness, non-discrimination, privacy, supremacy of the Constitution and the sanctity of human dignity for all.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission is mandated to offer guidance on any emerging human rights issues in the country by pointing out human rights concerns that require urgent attention and action by government and other stakeholders. Today therefore the UHRC will highlight human rights issues in three major areas of concern namely the suspension of pregnant students and denial to sit end of semester examinations by the Christian University in Kabale; outstanding human rights issues among the re-settled communities around Mt Elgon and the human rights situation of refugees in the West Nile sub region.
However before I delve into the above issues I wish on behalf of the Uganda Human Rights Commission to express our profound shock and disappointment at the reported break-in at the Human Rights Network – Uganda (HURINET-U) office premises last Sunday. HURINET is one of the major partners of UHRC in the in the civil society fraternity and one of the most active Human Rights Defenders in the country. The UHRC notes that such break-ins involving Human Rights Defenders’ premises have been reported before and it is worrying that such criminal acts still continue to happen. The UHRC strongly condemns these criminal acts in which HURINET is reported to have lost vital equipment and property and calls on the Police to urgently investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to book.
1. Rights of the unmarried pregnant students of Bishop Barham University College, Kabale (an affiliate College of UCU, Mukono)
The Uganda Human Rights Commission has taken note of the recent media reports involving the unmarried pregnant girls of Bishop Barham University, Kabale who were suspended and barred from sitting the end of semester examinations by the University administration on April 16, 2014.
Whereas the UHRC notes that the decision by the University to suspend the students was on account of the apparent breach of University regulations and code of conduct on the part of the affected students, it is the UHRC’s considered view that such a harsh decision is in total disregard of the rules of natural justice, fairness: and in contravention of the Constitution of Uganda as the supreme law of the land.
The UHRC therefore strongly condemns the decision by the Bishop Barham University Administration to suspend and bar the affected students (girls) from sitting for the end of semester examinations since it violates number of rights of the affected students as provided in the 1995 Constitution of Uganda. The UHRC n9tes that the decision of the University specifically contravenes the following areas:
• the supremacy of the Constitution under Article 2 (1) and (2) which make all other laws or customs including the University regulations invoked against the affected students, to be void;
• denies the affected students full realization of the right to education as provided under Article30 of the Constitution;
• curtails the affected students realization of equality and freedom from discrimination provided under Article 21(1), (2) and (3) of the Constitution;
• violates the principle of natural justice and the right to a fair hearing under Article 28 (3) (c) of the Constitution of the affected students and
• curtails the realization of the rights of women provided under Article 33 (1) and (4) of the Constitution which require that women are accorded equal treatment and opportunities with men.
2. The Human Rights Situation of communities around Mt. Elgon.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission is equally concerned with the persistent reports of tensions between the Uganda Wild life Authority (UWA) and the local communities around Mt. Elgon following efforts by UWA to restore the national park boundaries in the Mt Elgon area. The UHRC through regular monitoring visits and human rights community meetings by its Soroti Regional Office has received reports indicating that the exercise of re-settling people from the area designated for Mt. Elgon National Park has left over 1,000 people landless. This has mainly affected the areas of Kortek Sub-county in Bukwo District and in Bumba and Tsekululu subcounties in Manafwa District.
The UHRC continues to also receive numerous complaints of other human rights violations from communities that were re-settled in Benet and Kapsekek. Examples of such human rights concerns include inadequate land for agriculture for subsistence and the prohibition of communities to set up permanent housing units by both the private landowners and the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The Uganda Human Rights Commission has also received persistent complaints from the two groups of Ndoboros and Yatuis of Mt. Elgon who allege not to have been left in the camps of Bukwo during the resettlement exercise. Other human rights concerns especially by the communities in the affected areas that require urgent government intervention include disputed land boundaries and land ownership.
3. The Human Rights Situation of Refugees in the West Nile Sub Region.
In line with its mandate to monitor the human rights situation in the country and to also monitor government compliance with its treaty body obligations, the Uganda Human Rights Commission sent a team led by a Member of the Commission (myself) and other UHRC staff to Refugee camps in the Wet Nile Sub region to assess the human rights situation of the refugees. The UHRC team visited
refugee facilities at Nyumanzi 1, Nyumanzi 11, Baratuku, Ayilo Lugule Refugee Settlement and Rhino Camp to assess the prevailing human rights situation there as a follow-up of an earlier visit carried out by the UHRC Arua Regional Office in March this year.
The monitoring visit revealed some positive developments by government and its other partners in ensuring that the rights of refugees as provided for under international and regional instruments are fulfilled. Some of the efforts recognized in the refugee camps in West Nile Sub region by the UHRC visiting team included provision of land to refugees for housing and farming and provision of security and legal services in the settlements. Additionally, government registration of refugees using the biometric system and issuance of identity cards and other relevant documents to the refugees and the freedom to exercise their language and culture without restrictions were noted by the UHRC visiting team.
• However, the Uganda Human Rights Commission equally noted a number of human rights concerns and challenges in the selected refugee camps visited that need to be urgently addressed. Some of the major human rights concerns that hindered the full realization of human rights by refugees visited included the lack of schools; health center facilities; sanitation facilities and limited access to clean and safe water and adequate housing as refugees were only provided with tarpaulins. Most refugees also lacked other basic requirements such as beddings, utensils, lamps and mattresses. The UHRC team found that the above situation regrettably had far reaching impact on the expectant mothers, children, PWDs and older persons.
• The UHRC team also observed that inspite of the international and regional standards that require that refugees have rights to work, the refugees in the settlement centers visited did not have employment. It was also reported that the refugees were not able to engage in agriculture due to alleged insufficient land for cultivation and inadequate tools and seeds.
• There were reports of rampant cases of separated families living in camps far apart from each other and many cases of child-headed families arising from un accompanied children who lost contact with their parents in the process of fleeing the war conditions in South Sudan Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The refugees also reported suffering price discrimination by Ugandan traders whenever they have to purchase merchandise in Ugandan markets.
• Other areas of concern included the revelation that most refugee settlement centers did not have police posts thereby exposing the refugees and neighbouring communities to security risks; The situation was exacerbated by reports of large numbers of idle youth refugees who were feared to become soft targets for criminal activities.
In view of the above mentioned human rights concerns; the Uganda Human Rights Commission strongly recommends that:
1. The Ministry of Education and Sports urgently prevails upon the Bishop Barham University College, Kabale to review its arbitrary decision against the affected students and allow them to pursue their education by ensuring that special arrangements are made for them to sit for their end of Semester Examinations;
2. The Ministry of Education and Sports urgently intervenes by setting standard guidelines for disciplinary- codes in the various Universities and other educational institutions that take into account provisions of the Constitution as the supreme law of the land;
3. All government ministries, departments, agencies and private institutions adopt and mainstream the Human Rights Based Approach in their policies, programs and regulations;
4. Government urgently completes the re-settlement of the remaining communities of the Ndoboros and Yatuis of Mt Elgon who are still in the area designated for the Mt Elgon National Park;
5. Government investigates the initial re-settlement program of the communities that used to live in Mt Elgon National Park with a view to establishing and correcting the errors and omissions committed;
6. The Ministry of Health avails more health centers in the refugee camps in West Nile sub region, stocks them with medicine and provides mosquito nets to refugees especially the children, older persons and persons with disabilities;
7. The Ministry of Education avails school facilities in refugee camps and deploys adequate numbers of teachers;
8. Uganda Police Force establishes police posts in refugee settlement centers to keep law and order and to ensure security of the refugees and nationals.
9. The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) addresses the issue of re-uniting families of refugees who were separated during the registration exercise to keep the family unit together;
10. The OPM and other stakeholders urgently, embrace and apply the Human· Rights Based Approach to refugee humanitarian assistance programs to ensure the promotion and protection of the rights of refugees and
11. Appeal to refugees to know that rights go hand in hand with duties and responsibilities hence the need for them to respect the laws and regulations of Uganda as the hosting country and avoid any form of illegal actions.
In conclusion therefore, the Uganda Human Rights Commission calls upon government to protect, respect and fulfill the rights of all the people in Uganda and all Ugandans to fulfill our duties and responsibilities.
For God and My Country
Mr. Stephen Basaliza
Acting Chairperson/Uganda Human Rights Commission