The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) is hosting a delegation from Mozambique National Human Rights Institute which is in Uganda for four days starting July 2. The eight-man delegation is here on a bench-marking and experience sharing visit which kicked off with an interactive session with the UHRC Chairperson Mr. Med S.K Kaggwa and other Members of the Commission. In his welcome remarks, the UHRC Chairperson gave them a detailed account of the Commission’s mandate which emanates from the 1995 Constitution of Uganda and is operationalized by the Uganda Human Rights Commission Act of 1997 Cap 24.
“The Commission investigates human rights matters when one lodges a complaint or on our own volition when we learn of a human rights violation commonly through media reports. We also routinely visit jails and other places of detention where we go un- announced. Any of the Members of the Commission can decide, when on a trip in any part of the country, to for instance inspect cells of a police station in the area. We have been doing it and for the last 10 years I have been here, I have never received any political interference or any call from anybody demanding to know why I did my work in a certain way,” Mr. Kaggwa explained to the delegation which was led by Luis Bitone Nahe, the President of Mozambique National Human Rights Institution.
The other delegates from Mozambique included Commissionaries; Maria Alice Mabota, Ernesto Cassimuca Lipapa; Stefan Dick Mphiri; Feliciano Metazama Gabriel and Rosa Silveira Cosley White. Others were Sandra Joaquim who heads the Department of Monitoring and Evaluation and Ivandro Goncalo, a Technician of Human Rights.
Mr. Kaggwa also took the delegation through other functions of UHRC including its structure, powers, categories of human resource and the methodologies it uses to execute its wide mandate of protecting and promoting the observance of human rights in the country. He also articulated the various achievements including the fact that the UHRC was voted best National Human Rights Institution in Africa by the African Union in 2012 and was early this year among the countries globally accredited with an “A” Status after an elaborate process of assessment by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions in Geneva.
Other Members of the Commission present at the briefing were; Mr. Meddie B. Mulumba, Ms. Victoria Rusoke Businge and Dr. Patricia Achan – Okiria. On her part Commissioner Rusoke explained the Vision and Mission of the UHRC, as well as the recently signed memorandum of understanding by the Commission, Office of the Prime Minister, National Planning Authority and the Uganda Bureau of Standards to apply the Human Rights Based Approach to Data aimed at achieving the 2030 vision of “Leaving no one Behind.” She also highlighted the Commission’s role in monitoring the protection of refugees in Uganda by the individual UHRC Commissioners to supplement efforts by the Commission’s Directorate of Monitoring and Inspections.
Commissioner Mulumba also explained the UHRC’s collaboration with the National Planning Authority (NPA) to incorporate the Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) in the National Development Plan. He further informed the delegates the key role played by the Commission in the enactment of the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture and other Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act which holds individuals personally liable for any human right violation as one of the ways of fighting the vice of torture in the country and providing legal redress and remedies to victims of torture. “With this law, we can now recommend that the culprit be dismissed from their job or that they meet the cost of compensation to the victim unlike before when compensation of victims was made by Government through the Attorney General under the principle of vicarious liability,” he said.
Mr. Kaggwa supplemented that unlike other countries, whose National Human Rights Institutions were formed as a result of a UN recommendation, the UHRC was formed by Ugandans themselves under the 1995 Constitution and so there is goodwill from both government and the citizens. He also said the Commission has produced training manuals for the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces, the Uganda Police Force and Uganda Prison Services on top of authoring primary reader’s handbooks for pupils. He told the delegation that the Commission has also aided the establishment of peace clubs in secondary school so as inculcate the principles and respects human rights even among the young population. The Chairperson however, also highlighted some challenges facing the Commission such as the inadequate budget and human resources among others.
In his remarks, President Bitone Nahe of Mozambique National Human Rights Institution said that although the organisation was set up in 2009, it started operations in 2012 because of some logistical constraints. He also said that from 2012 to 2017, they were creating and setting up systems under which the institution would operate. “The Mozambique human rights institution just like its Ugandan counterpart also has powers to investigate on its own, power to mediate and refer matters to court but has no powers over the court or its operations,” he added
He too pointed out the biggest problem of the Mozambique Human Rights Institution as being inadequate staffing which currently stands at only 12 staff including the Chairperson as opposed to the planned number of 75 members of staff. He shared that it is only the Chairperson who is permanent and gets a salary, while the rest of the Commissionaries are not full time employees of the institution and therefore only get allowances. He noted that the institution in its current form is therefore not able to cover the eleven provinces of Mozambique and subsequently only operates in the capital city of Maputo. He said given the challenges of shortage of manpower, the institution resolved that each Commissionary becomes a focal person of human rights in their respective Province.
“It is government, civil society and respective professional bodies which elect the rest of the Commissionaries for a period of five years. The law however is silent on whether the term is renewable or not but we are optimistic that it will be reviewed; Mr Bitone Nahe said in reference to how the policy body of his institution is appointed. Highlighting some of the work so far carried out by his institution, the Chairperson also said the government of Mozambique has ratified several international treaties and conventions but they are not yet domesticated. “Mozambique has for example ratified the Convention Against Torture and its Optional Protocol but we don’t have torture in our Penal Code,” he said.
The other presentations made by the Uganda Human Rights Commission to the visiting delegation were by Ms. Ida Nakiganda the Director Complaints Investigation and Legal Services (CILS). Ms. Nakiganda briefed them on the main function of the directorate which is to receive and handle complaints of human rights violations and to provide redress and remedies to victims. She explained the complaints handling procedure, the admissibility criteria and how complaints are resolved which is either through mediation or the UHRC tribunal by ordering compensation awards to victims of human rights violations. In her response to questions from the delegation on how the Commission is able to receive complaints from the entire country, the director informed them that the Commission has a country-wide network of offices that carry out its constitutional mandate in the areas where they are located. Ms. Nakiganda also informed the visiting team that the Commission handles a range of human rights issues including marriage, inheritance, child neglect and adoption among other allegations of human rights violations. She also explained how the Commission handles cases of delayed justice such as police detention of suspects beyond the constitutional 48-hour rule by in some instances ordering the release of such suspects; hearing cases of the violation by the UHRC tribunals and providing continuous human rights sensitization and awareness programmes to the police to observe and respect the rights of suspects.
Ms. Priscilla Nyarugoye who represented the Directorate of Monitoring and Inspections (M&I) shared with the dlelegation the functions of the Directorate which mainly include monitoring government compliance with international treaties; monitoring the human rights situation in the country and reviewing bills before Parliament to ensure their compliance with human right standards.
Responding to some of the questions raised by the visiting delegation particularly with regard to reporting obligations by government on ratified and domesticated international treaties and conventions, Ms. Nyarugoye informed them that the Commission actively collaborates with the Ministries of Gender and Foreign Affairs which are charged with the duty of submitting periodic reports on behalf of government to regional and international fora. She also informed the visitors of other innovations spearheaded by the Commission to support government ministries and departments to improve compliance in meeting their reporting obligations. Ms. Nyarugoye told the delegates that the UHRC had set up a web based Search Engine with support of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Uganda through which we can monitor compliance with the reporting schedule on recommendations made to Uganda from regional and international mechanisms by each Government Ministry, Department and Agency.
In response to the delegates’ inquiry on how the question of the right to vote by prisoners is handled by the Commission, the chairperson Mr. Kaggwa clarified that there is currently no legal provision for prisoners in Uganda Prisoners to vote although the Commission has raised the concern at various fora and in the Commission’s annual reports on the state of human rights in the country. He also informed the visitors that the position of UHRC on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights is that although the practice is illegal under the Ugandan law and the Commission does not condone recruitment of others into the practice, persons with this disposition are entitled to all other rights which must be protected under the law just like other suspects and should not be discriminated against on account of their sexual orientation.
The Commission also shared some of the measures it has put in place to protect the rights of the different interest groups like Women, the youth, children and People with Disabilities (PWDs) which they said included the establishment of a specialized Unit in charge of vulnerable persons at its head office.
The visiting delegation was also briefed by other units of the Commission on their various functions. Presentations were made by the Directorate of Research, Education and Documentation (RED), whose main function is to deliver civic education and human rights thematic research and the Directorate of Regional Services which is responsible for coordinating and facilitating the country-wide regional offices to implement the mandate of the Commission. The Planning and Human Resource Units of the Commission also briefed the delegation on their respective support functions. The visiting delegation also visited the Uganda Human Rights Library and Resource Center which is a free resource facility for human rights enthusiasts, academicians and members of the general public.
In order to get a feel of how the Commission operates in its other offices located across the country; a move that was intended to take services closer to the grass root level, the Mozambique delegation was on Wednesday July 3rd 2019 hosted at the UHRC Central Regional Office located in Naguru; a Kampala suburb. The visiting team was also hosted by the Commission’s partners in the civil society sector who complement Commission work. The team accordingly visited the African Center for Treatment of Torture Victims (ACTV) in the Kamwokya suburb of Kampala. The delegation was also hosted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Uganda being one of the key international agencies that UHRC collaborates with in fulfilling its mandate of protecting and promoting human rights in Uganda.