On Thursday 28th July 2016, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) presented its 18th Annual Report to the Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda Rt. Hon Rebecca A. Kadaga at the Speaker’s Chambers in Parliament. The function which was performed by the Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission Hon. Med S.K Kaggwa, was in fulfillment of Article 52 (2) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda requiring the Commission to publish and submit annual reports to Parliament on the state of human rights and freedoms in Uganda. Also in attendance were Members of the Commission Dr. Katebalirwe Amooti, Mr. Joseph Etima, Col. Stephen Basaliza and the Secretary to the Commission Mr. G.T Mwesigye. The function was also attended by members of the UHRC management committee.
Speaking after the Chairperson of UHRC had presented the highlights of the report, the Speaker of Parliament commended the Commission for the great work that it continues to do and for ensuring that it fulfilled its constitutional obligation of publishing and submitting to Parliament its reports on an annual basis. The Rt. Hon Kadaga urged UHRC to closely collaborate with the Ministry of Education and Sports to streamline human rights in all the school curricula in order to entrench the culture of human rights among the young children at an early age. Earlier in his remarks, the Chairperson of UHRC had commended the Speaker for expediting the process of approving the appointments for the new members of the Commission in February this year after a lapse of about ten months without a constituted Commission on expiry of their old term of office in April 2015. He also noted that the late submission of the 18th Annual Report was as a result of the absence of a fully constituted Commission.
The report was later launched to the public at Imperial Royale Hotel to about 300 guests who included representatives of development partners; civil society organisations; students; representatives from government ministries, departments and agencies; PWDs; security agencies; members of the media and members of the general public. Also in attendance at the public launch were representatives of foreign missions to Uganda such as the United States of America, Sweden, France and Ireland. Other guests included the Dr. UchennaEmelonyethe Head of Office for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Uganda, Members of Parliament and members of the Academia.
Highlights of thenine chapter report which is divided into two broad sections with one covering the strategic interventions undertaken by the UHRC in line with its specific functions outlined under Article 52(1) (Chapter 1-4) and the other consisting five chapters, which makes an assessment of the human rights situation in 2015 in (Chapters 5-9) were presented at the public launch ceremony by the UHRC and Dr. Christopher Mbazirafrom the School of Law, Makerere University made a critique of the report.
The 263 page report gives a detailed assessment of the state of human rights and freedoms in the country during 2015. The report reveals thatthe UHRC received a total of 4,227 complaints, marking an 8.27% increase from the 3,904 complaints registered in 2014. In 2015, the UHRC registered nine election related complaints and the highest number of complaints registered included the violation of freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (37.95%), followed by detention beyond 48 hours (27.17%), denial of child maintenance (14.3%), deprivation of property (7.04%) and deprivation of life (3.96%).
The Uganda Police Force remained on topof the list of violators of human rights in 2015, with 385 (50.65%) complainants out of the total of 760; followed by private individuals with 182 (23.94%) and the Uganda People Defence Forces with 97(12.76%). UHRC conducted mediations for 163 complaints, which was an increase of 34.71% from 121 mediated in 2014, while the UHRC Tribunal concluded 85 complaints in 2015, posting a 58.7% reduction from the 206 complaints in 2014. The performance of the tribunal was affected by theabsence of Commissioners to preside over the hearings given the ten-month period taken to re-appoint them on expiry of their term of office in April 2015. The report shows that the UHRC Tribunal awarded a total of UGX 579,300,000 (Five hundred seventy nine million, three hundred thousand Uganda Shillings only) to victims of human rights violations and as of 31st December 2015, the outstanding awards against the Attorney General were UGX 5,047,671,968 (Five billion, forty seven million, six hundred seventy one thousand, nine hundred sixty eight Uganda Shillings only). In his remarks to the Speaker, the Chairperson of UHRC re-echoed the concern of delayed payment of compensation awards and advocated for a separate Compensation Fund for victims of human rights violations.
In fulfillment of its function of inspecting detention centers in the country to assess the condition of inmates, the UHRC inspected 896 detention facilities and of these, 173 were prisons, 205 police stations, 509 police posts, 4 military detention facilities and 5 remand homes. The UHRC also inspected Nalufenyadetention center in Jinjaand the Special Investigations Unit in Kirekafollowing reports of missing persons for election related offences and the suspects were charged before courts of law and released.In the 18th Report, the UHRC again noted some positive developments as well as recurrent structural and administrative challenges including cases of long and arbitrary detentions, children detained with imprisoned primary caregivers and inappropriate accommodation and sanitation facilities in detention centers visited.
On the delivery of human rights education and awareness programmes in 2015, the UHRC undertook several activities including workshops, trainings, community outreach programmes, road shows, media campaigns and advocacy aimed at enhancing the levels of human rights awareness and nurturing a human rights culture for both duty bearers and rights holders. According to the report, UHRC sensitized a total of 43,878 people drawn from state and non-state actors and enhanced its civic education interventions in preparation for the 2016 General Elections. Grassroots human rights awareness campaigns were conducted in 72 districts through community meetings (Baraza) and other interventions which included village road shows, media campaigns through live phone-in radio talk shows, radio spot messages, television talk shows, infomercials, newspaper supplements and press conferences to inform and engage with the general public on human rights issues.
The report also highlightedsupport activities relating to human, financial and logistical resources critical for implementing the UHRC constitutional mandate. It revealed that UHRC received total funding of UGX 14.6 billion; of which UGX 9.78 billion was appropriated by Government, while UGX 4.9 billion was provided by development partners. Despite the growing funding from the Government at an average rate of 4.5% per year since FY 2011/12, the appropriation of funds has not corresponded with the UHRC needs. As such, the UHRC has continued to rely on donor funding to fulfill its mandate and has not adequately carried out its mandate especially in the area of offering continuous civic education to the citizens.
The recently launched report flagged some key emerging and recurrent human rights concerns with serious human rights implications experienced within 2015. It highlightedhuman rights concerns in babies’ and children’s homes in Uganda; the state of specific rights of selected vulnerable persons namely: older persons, people living with albinism, persons with physical disability and ex-combatants; the plight of domestic workers; environmental degradation by selected businesses; and the impact of digital technology on personal data safety, human rights and responsibilities. Specific human rights concerns raised in the report included: discrimination of persons living with albinism; exploitation, harassment and abuse of domestic and migrant workers; inadequate measures to prevent, mitigate and remedy human rights abuses by businesses; and the inadequate protection of digital rights. The report also makes recommendations to the various stakeholders.
Still in the report, the UHRC examined the country’s preparedness for the 2016 General Elections by assessing election related activities during 2015. In addition to assessing the level of preparedness of the Electoral Commission, political parties, legislators, CSOs, the general public and other key stakeholders in the electoral process, the UHRC also developed the Early Warning and Early Response (EW&ER) mechanism to identify and promptly respond to human rights concerns identified prior, during and after the elections. UHRC also carried out civic education, monitored detention facilities to locate missing persons reportedly detained on account of election-related incidents and put in place a special complaints-handling mechanism to specifically document and handle election-related complaints. Despite the peaceful nomination of presidential candidates, and progress in updating and displaying the voter register, the report noted challenges such as the inadequate voter and civic education; lack of and or inadequate internal democratic processes in political parties; inadequate and late electoral reforms; and subjective interpretation and selective application of the law and election guidelines, among others. The report also made pertinent recommendations for future improvements in preparation for electoral processes.
The UHRCundertook monitoring visits to a cross-section of ethnic minority groups to assess the human rights situation of some of the ethnic minorities in Uganda. The ethnic minority groups visited included the Benet, Ik, Kuku, Ngikutio, Napore, Tepeth, Batwa, Nyangia located in Kisoro, Kabale, Bundibugyo, Yumbe, Kaabong, Moroto, Kween and Bulambuli districtsin Uganda. The UHRC visits to these groups intended to establish the progress made so far following the recommendations earlier made inits previous monitoring visits and findings reported in its 11th Annual Report of 2008. The current report points outthe outstanding human rights concerns, but also the positive interventions. The human rights concerns for the ethnic minority groups visited included inadequate participation in the development process, poor appreciation of their culture and increased vulnerability due to frequent incidents of land evictions.
As a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), the UHRC has a duty to review and analyse bills, laws and policies in order to ensure that they are in line with human rights obligations and standards and not in conflict with existing laws. The report therefore presentedthe UHRC position and highlighted recommendations that were submitted and incorporated by parliament in the Non-Governmental Organisations Bill, 2015 (NGO Bill) and the Constitution Amendment Bill, 2015 that were subsequently passed into law; as well as the Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014 (PWDs Bill) and the Children (Amendment) Bill, 2014. Though the Bills generally sought to domesticate international conventions that government had ratified and introduced oversight mechanisms for, the UHRC noted that there were still several human rights concerns that needed urgent attention.
The report also gave an account of the status of implementation of the various recommendations made to Government by UHRC and the extent of fulfillment of Treaty Body Reporting obligations in its previous annual reports. The report revealed that the UHRC in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs had with support from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Uganda, developed a database and search engine as a monitoring tool for use by the various government ministries, departments and agencies to track their compliance with all human rights recommendations from international and regional human rights mechanisms, as well as the UHRC recommendations. The data base is expected to strengthen the monitoring and reporting mechanisms of Uganda on human rights.