A two day National Conference on Economic, Social and Cultural rights was held on 16th and 17th September 2015 at Makerere University Main Hall.
Among the guests, Hon. Lady Justice Prof. Lillian Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza of the Supreme Court of Uganda was guest of honor. The Guest Speaker, Hon. Justice Johann van der Westhuizen of the South African Constitutional Court, Representatives from Government, International Institutions and Development Partners, Professors, members of the Academia and Students, Representatives from CSOs, Media and Members of the Public.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission partnered with the Public Interest Law Clinic (PILAC) of the School of Law Makerere University, the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), the Human Rights Network-Uganda (HURINET), the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR).
Taking into consideration the mandate of Uganda Human Rights Commission as per Article 52 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, which in summary mandates the Commission to promote human rights in the country, UHRC considered the conference as one of the means which can be utilized to promote human rights in Uganda.
Uganda is a signatory of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and as such it has obligations to promote and protect these rights within Uganda. Although the realization of economic, social and cultural rights is intended to be progressive in nature, it would seem that the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in Uganda is daunted due to several problems. Most significant of these problems is the issue of to social exclusion. Social exclusion in Uganda is manifested not only through the provision of services, but within communities and households.
Consequently, it is clear there is need for an honest discussion and a platform that deliberates on the issue of social exclusion and its link to the realization of economic, social and cultural rights. Such a platform opens up the much needed public dialogue on the issues of social exclusion; the hampered access to socio – economic goods due to social exclusion; the constraints that lead to limited access to socio- economic goods; whether there are discriminatory practices that prevent equitable access to the socio – economic goods; and the efforts being made to eradicate the existing impediments to inclusive access to socio economic goods.
One of the ways that the Uganda Human Rights Commission believes that access to socio economic goods due to social exclusion can be stopped is through the integration of a human rights based approach towards development in all policy making and programming activities.
The underlying principles of the human rights based approach include empowerment of the citizens living in poverty, accountability of duty bearers, participation and inclusion of all duty bearer and equality and non-discrimination. The use of the human rights based approach will aid in tackling the consistent persistent patterns of inequality and discrimination that lead to exclusion and marginalization and eventually the denial of human rights.
Uganda is currently in the process of developing its National Action Plan for Human Rights, which will embody its commitment to promote and protect human rights and also address the existing problem of social exclusion.
The varied participation from different sectors and walks of life in ensuring that this conference took place is further testament of the importance and magnitude of this issue of social exclusion and access to socio economic goods. There was a lineup of sessions that included judges, Professors from Makerere University, representatives from CSOs, representatives from UN organizations, Politicians; government representatives and students.
The Conference addressed the issue of social exclusion holistically. Social exclusion manifests itself significantly in our access to basic services such as food, water, health and education services, affecting marginalized groups such as ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, indigent persons, and persons living in hard-to-reach areas, etc. The question kept at the back of the participants’ minds is how do we, in our respective roles and responsibilities, ensure the access, availability, acceptability and quality of these socio-economic goods and services so that no one is left behind because everyone matters.