The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) as a tradition and in fulfillment of its constitutional mandate presented its 17th Annual Report to the Speaker of Parliament the Rt. Hon. Rebecca A. Kadaga in the Speaker’s Chambers at Parliamentary Buildings in Kampala, on 24th March 2015 at 10:00am.
Later in the day, the Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission Mr. Med .S.K Kaggwa officially launched the report to the public at Golf course Hotel Kampala, at 2:00pm. In his welcome remarks Mr. Med S.K. Kaggwa lauded the Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda for receiving the UHRC 17th Annual Report and establishing a Parliamentary Human Rights Committee to discuss the UHRC reports and follow up action of government departments indicated in the reports.
Speaking at a function that drew over 200 participants, Mr. Kaggwa called for emphasis on prevention of human rights violations through civic and human rights awareness rather than focusing all our energies on redress after the violations have occurred. Noting the continued receipt of high numbers of human rights complaints at the UHRC and the consistent nature of violations reported with deprivation of the right to personal liberty, particularly detention beyond 48 hours once again topping the list, the UHRC Chairperson was concerned that the highest number of violations were once gain reported against the Uganda Police Force. He called for concerted efforts with all stakeholders mentioned in the report to reverse the current trend.
Considering that the UHRC Annual Report gives a national status on human rights and the fact that human rights is a phenomenon that cuts across all spheres of life, a cross section of people attended the public launch including officials from government departments such as Uganda Prison Services; Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces; Uganda Police Force; Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence; Uganda Equal Opportunities Commission and the Judiciary among others. Also in attendance were other government agencies such as the Justice, Law and Order Sector and development partners mainly from the Democracy and Governance Facility and GIZ and civil society organisations.
Highlights of the nine-chapter report were presented during the public launch covering the following areas; the human rights complaints management function; assessment of conditions in places of detention; the human rights education and awareness programmes implemented and government’s compliance with UHRC’s recommendations during the reporting period. The other areas that were given special attention in the Report are the human rights concerns in the fishing communities in Uganda; access to essential health commodities and the achievement of health related millennium development goals.
In this 17th Report, the UHRC pronounces its position on the National Biotechnology and Bio Safety Bill 2012, The Tobacco Control Bill 2014 and The retirement Benefits Sector Liberalization Bill, 2011. The report also addresses emerging human rights concerns like the early warning in preparation of the 2016 National Elections, the forced evictions by KCCA and Uganda Wildlife Authority and the recurrent floods, hailstorms and road traffic accidents that continue to spark off human rights issues.
The Uganda Police Force has like in most of the previous reports been singled out with the highest complaints registered against the institution during the past year. It is noted that a total of 572 complaints were reported to the UHRC compared to 424 complaints received in 2013, reflecting an increase of about 40 percent. However, complaints against private individuals were also reported to have increased from 163 in 2013 to 198 last year, ranking second highest to those reported against Police. On the other hand, the report notes that there was a big increase in the number of human rights complaints reported against the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF )– from 55 in 2013 to 112 in 2014 (more than 100%). On the other hand, the Uganda Prison Services retained the same number (36) of human rights complaints reported against the institution while those against the Local Government increased from 28 in 2013 to 32 last year.
On the whole, the report revealed that there was a general increase in the number of human rights complaints received by UHRC last year, having registered a total number of 895 compared to 720 received in 2013 with the deprivation of the right to personal liberty (detention beyond 48hours) being the highest registered complaint (from 275 to 381). This was followed by the complaints of torture, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment which increased by more than 30percent, from 273 complaints registered in 2013 to 357 in 2014. Complaints about denials of maintenance were reported to have registered a decrease of 4.37% (137 to 131) while the violation of the right to property increased by more than 225 (from 63 to 77).
The Uganda Police Force has since 2010 been a top respondent with a total of 2,169 (42.1%) registered against it, out of the 5054 total complaints received by the UHRC, followed by private individuals 1,070(21.17%), The Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) with 492 (9.73%) Uganda Prison Services 177(3.5%) and Local Governments with 183 (3.62%) registered against them.
According to the Report, a total of 1884 complaints were investigated by the Commission last year, 812 of which were completed while the rest (1072) were partially done. Those mediated were 121 which were fewer than those handled the previous year. The denial for child maintenance was the most common complaint mediated.
On the other hand, a total of 1,167,980,000/= (UGX) was awarded to victims of human rights violations last year alone. Part of this amount (UGX 174,180,000/= was agreed upon by parties through amicable settlement while the bigger amount UGX 993,800,000/= was awarded by UHRC Tribunals. These awards were mostly made in respect of the right from torture, the right to life and the right to liberty.
The Report makes positive remarks regarding the places of detention (police, military and prisons) by observing among others; the phasing out of the bucket system during the day, the increase in number of human rights committees in prisons and military detention facilities and the use of updated registers.
The other human rights concerns pointed out in the Report included; persistence of cases about long and arbitrary detention in police, prison and military facilities, lack of adequate food in police detention areas, incarceration of children with adults, prolonged detentions awaiting minister’s orders, the increased involvement of crime preventers and local council leaders in the execution of the work of law enforcement officers and the dire working conditions of the prison and police personnel.
However, in his critique of the report Justice Lawrence Gidudu of the High Court of Uganda recommended an extension of the constitutional 48 hours by a court order, noting that organized crime such as terrorism, money laundering, smuggling, drug, human trafficking, cybercrimes and other trans-border crimes, required more time for the prosecutors to gather evidence. He however warned against giving the police and DPP freedom to produce suspects as and when they wish to complete the investigations, instead be granted by a court order which he asserted was the international practice.
The public function at Golf Course Hotel also accorded an opportunity to the participants to make comments and the general feeling was that the UHRC had done a plausible job in the protection and promotion of human rights and cited its recognition among regional and international circles; noting the ‘A’ status accreditation of UHRC by the United Nations for two consecutive times in a row. The UHHRC position as best National Human Rights Institution in Africa was also recognized.
The Government of Uganda was however, urged to increase funding for UHRC to enable it carry out more civic and human rights education in the country.