Uganda Human Rights Commission’s performance for the period July to December 2016 reviewed
The new Ambassador of Sweden to Uganda H.E Per Lindgarde lauded the work done both at the national and community levels by the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) in the last six months of 2016, which he observed had greatly contributed to the protection and promotion of human rights in Uganda. Speaking for the first time at the semi-annual review conference of the Uganda Human Rights Commission held at Piato Restaurant, Kampala on Tuesday 28th February 207, the Ambassador who represented the eight development partners that offer budget support to the UHRC under their umbrella organization the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), also used the platform to highlight specific human rights concerns in the country which he noted required further intervention by the UHRC.
The Swedish Ambassador on behalf of his counterparts for instance acknowledged that whereas the previous elections in the country that were held during the period under review were generally peaceful, some of the incidents during the post -election period specifically the November clashes in Kasese involving the army and royal guards of the ObusingaBwa Rwenzururu (Kingdom) as well as the incidents of murders among the Muslim community were a source of human rights concerns. He also noted other issues that threatened the enjoyment of human rights for the citizens including climate change and land degradation that have led to reports of famine and draught in many parts of the country andthe challenge of land use and management which has led to the many reports of land conflicts and increasing reports of violence against women and girls.
Drawing from thesignificant reduction of the cases of human rights violations reported against the two institutionsaccording to the UHRC report under discussion, Ambassador Per Lindgarde hailed the Uganda People’s Defence Forces and Uganda Prisons Service for improving their observance of human rights in the course of their work. He in the same veincalled for enhanced engagement and strategies by the UHRC to reduce the number of cases reported against the Uganda Police which were still high in comparison to the other security agencies. The Ambassador however, said that as partners, they were pleased with the current efforts by the Professional Standards Unit of the Uganda Police to punish its errant officers who violate human rights and commended the Uganda Human Rights Commission for its continuous human rights awareness programmes that specifically targeted the security agencies. He further commended UHRC for the interventions undertaken with regard to the internally displaced persons in the Albertine region and particularly the people in Rwamutonga camp. Recognizing the commendable role played by the UHRC in the 2016 elections and its recently published election report, he urged the various stakeholders to address the challenges highlighted in this report in order to ensure better management of the next round of elections in 2021.
Relatedly while noting the challenges that the UHRC faced in delivering its national mandate such as the big case backlog at tribunal level, the Ambassador on behalf of the other development partners commended its efforts in the area of raising awareness on human rights across the country through civic educations programmes such as school Human Rights Clubs, media programmes and community meetings (Baraza). He recognized that such efforts had also contributed to the increased number of cases reported to the Commission during the period under review. He further commended UHRC for interventions such as the issuance of public statements concerning emerging human rights issues with recommendations to the various stakeholders but urged the Commission to continue engaging the concerned stakeholders and follow up on cases of human rights violations identified within the reporting period.
Dr. Katebalirwe Amooti Wa Irumba who represented the UHRC Chairperson at the meeting had earlier welcomed participants to the review meeting and expressed gratitude to the government of Uganda and development partners for supporting the Commission’s programmes that were aimed at fulfilling its Constitutional mandate. He informed the fifty participants present that the forum would be used to evaluate the performance of Uganda Human Rights Commission’s activities contained in its Strategic Investment Plan and work plan implemented during the period from July to December 2016 in the protection and promotion of human in the country. Commissioner Katebalirwe urged the participants who included representatives from the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development; Parliament of Uganda;Justice,Law and Order Sector Secretariat; Security Agencies and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiatives (FHRI) which represented civil societyorganisations and a cross section of development partners from the Embassy of Sweden; Embassy of Norway; Embassy of Ireland;British High Commission; DGF, GIZ and the European Union, to contribute to the discussion by openly and candidly expressing their views on the report to enable UHRC make improvements in future. Also in attendance, were the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights Hon. Jovah Kamateeka, the Ambassador of the Royal Embassy of Denmark H.E Mogens Pedersen and the Head of Office of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) Ms. Helen Mealins as well as Members of the Commission and staff from the Uganda Human Rights Commission.
While presenting highlights of activities carried out during the period under review at the same meeting, the Regional Human Rights Officer of Fort Portal Mr. Willy Agirembabazi on behalf of the UHRC gave a general overview of the human rights situation in the country and outlined theprogress made by implementing the various activities in relation to the key performance outputs and strategic outcomes laid out in the overall UHRC Strategic Plan. He also shared some of the major challenges that UHRC encountered while implementing the activities in the period under review.
His presentation on the general human rights situation included the Kasese clashes;land evictions in Rwamutonga in Hoima District involving internally displaced people; natural disasters involving an earthquake in Rakai District which occurred in September last year and the refugee situation in Gulu, Kamwenge, Adjumani and Karamoja. Mr.Agirembabazi highlighted the human rights implications occasioned by each of the above incidences and the subsequent interventions by UHRC and other stakeholders.Some of the interventions by UHRC mentioned included the monitoring visits made to the affected places, documentation and sharing ofhuman rights concerns identified with the relevant stakeholders such as government authorities, registering complaints of alleged human rights violations and issuing public statements in the media about the plight of the victims.
In addition, Mr. Agirembabazi presented highlights of activities carried out by UHRC with the aim of achieving its strategic outcome to reduce incidences of human rights violationsin the countryduring the period. These included registeringa total of 628 alleged human rights violations, out of which the 249 complaints on the deprivation of personal liberty constituted the highest number of alleged human rights violations; closely followed by the 208 complaints of alleged torture, inhuman and degrading treatment.As earlier alluded to, the report presented by Mr. Agirembabazi revealed that the highest number of alleged human rights violations was against the Uganda Police Force and also showed a general increase in the total number of complaints registered during the period under review. The increase in number of total complaints was partly attributed to enhanced human rights awareness interventions by UHRC. The presentation also reported progress in the number of complaints fully investigated; cases mediated using its alternative dispute resolution mechanism and an increase in the number of complaints disposed of at the tribunal level. Improvements at the tribunal level during the period were a result of resumption of the UHRC tribunal function following the appointment of new Commissioners whose term of office had expired during the previous review period.
Still in an effort to reduce the incidence of human rights violations in the country, the report presented by Mr Agirembabazi revealed that UHRC inspected a total of 771 places of detention covering prisons, police stations and posts and military facilities to ensure that they complied with human rights standards, but with special focus on police posts where alleged human rights violations are currently reported to be rampant.Although the report posted progress in observance of human rights in most detention facilitiesduring the period such as reduced incidents of torture and reduced use of the bucket system in many detention centers, a number of challenges still remained. These includedprolonged remand periods for prisoners; lack of transport to take inmates to court; irregular court sessions in some magisterial areas; inadequate funds for meals at police detention centers;overcrowding in some centers; inadequate health services for inmates and the use of the bucket system in some centers among others. UHRC interventions reported to address the above challenges included engagements with stakeholders in the JLOS sector such as the Judiciary and other partners to ensure diversion of petty cases, expansion of prison infrastructure and increased budgets for prisons among others.
The report also highlighted efforts by UHRC to informand empower the citizenry on their rights and duties through civic education programmes such as media campaigns and community meetings (Baraza). However, Mr. Agirembabazi pointed out that the UHRC still faced the challenge of inadequate funding which limits its ability to reach a big number of the population.
Adding her voice to that of the Swedish Ambassador was Ms.Sophie Racinewho hailed the good work and commitment exhibited by the UHRC to improve human rights in Uganda which she attributed to the good leadership and hard work of the staff there. Speaking at the same meeting Ms. Racine who is the Components Manager, Rights, Justice and Peace at the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) said she drew her assessment from her day to day interface with the UHRCgiven her technical role and assignment. She urged the Commission to re-strategise in addressing the persistent allegations of human rights violations by the police and encouragedemphasis on mainstreaming of Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) by the police. She also called on the UHRC to devise means to further reduce the case backlog within its system andto mainstream protection and promotion of the rights women.
In his closing remarks, Dr. Katebalirwe welcomed the recommendations made to UHRC by the various participants during the meeting which he noted were aimed at improving the general human rights situation in the country. He pointed out that the next such meeting was expected to take place after July this year to review UHRC’s performancefor the period of January to June 2017.