The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) is deeply concerned with the situation at Makerere University that was sparked by a protest by students over a number of grievances including the proposed 15% tuition increment; restrictive students’ electoral regulations and poor conditions obtaining in their halls of residence. Whereas the Commission is cognisant of the Constitutional provisions which mandate security organisations to prevent and detect crime, we condemn the recent incidents at Makerere University involving the night raid on Lumumba and Mitchell halls of residence which were characterised by the use of excessive force by security agencies and resulted in gross human rights violations.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission is among its various constitutional functions as the National Human Rights Commission, charged with monitoring the human rights situation in the country and making appropriate recommendations to relevant stakeholders. The Commission is also mandated to create and sustain within society, awareness of the provisions of the Constitution. The Commission therefore periodically pronounces itself on critical emerging human rights issues in fulfillment of this Constitutional mandate in order to provide guidance to the country on how the human rights situation can be improved.
- Human Rights concerns arising from the recent Makerere University
The Commission is concerned that various human rights were negatively impacted during the recent Makerere University strike and below are some of them:
The right to education
The Commission strongly condemns the brutal handling of un-armed students by security personnel during the protest at Makerere University which victims allegedly included students with disabilities. The mayhem created when security raided some Halls of residence in the University during the night was to say the least appalling.
The Commission’s concerns are therefore derived from various constitutional and policy provisions underlining the right to education as one of the fundamental rights.
The Constitution under the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy XIV for instance requires the State to endeavor to fulfill the fundamental rights of all Ugandans to social justice and economic development and shall, in particular among others ensure that all Ugandans enjoy rights and opportunities and access to education under section (b). This provision makes it incumbent upon the state to make education affordable and accessible by every citizen at all levels.
The same Constitution further provides for the right to education by all persons under Article 30. Additionally, other policies such as Uganda’s Vision 2040 also recognize the role of higher education in influencing development, productivity, innovation and knowledge transfer which contribute to achieving the Vision. The Commission therefore notes that the prohibitive students’ dues at Makerere University affect enjoyment of the right to education.
The right to respect for human dignity and protection from inhuman treatment
We note the media reports showing students who sustained injuries with some still hospitalized; suffered loss and damaged property; and violent arrests by security personnel. There were also reports of security personnel forcefully breaking into students’ rooms in some halls of residence. Reports of students with disabilities (PWDs) and therefore in the category of vulnerable persons also being assaulted and man handled during the Makerere fracas, are regrettable and we strongly condemn them. Journalists were also barred from carrying out their work during the fracas and reportedly arrested as well.
The Commission was appalled by the use of unwarranted excessive force by the security personnel leading to violation of the rights of students and journalists covering the incidents, in total contravention of Article 221 of the Constitution that requires security organisations to observe and respect human rights and freedoms in the performance of their functions.
The right to personal liberty
The Commission has noted the massive arrest of students involved in the Makerere protests that started on Tuesday 22, October 2019 and continued in subsequent days. Whereas security organisations have the legal mandate to arrest suspects, they are required to produce the suspect before court not later than 48 hours from the time of the arrest as provided under Article 23 (4) (b) of the Constitution. The detention of some students beyond the mandatory 48 hour rule was therefore a violation of their rights.
Freedom of expression and assembly
We have also noted reports indicating that whereas the protests that started on Tuesday 22, October 2019 at Makerere University by female students to express dissatisfaction with increased dues among other concerns were peaceful, they were barred by the security organisations. The right of freedom to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peacefully and unarmed and to petition is provided for under Article 29(1), (d) of the Constitution but was in this instance curtailed. Although the Commission on the other hand recognizes provisions of the Public Order Management law to regulate public gatherings, we strongly urge the police to facilitate other than stifle realization and enjoyment of these rights so long as they are peaceful and orderly.
The right of access to information
The Commission further noted reports of journalists being caught up in the Makerere University fracas and some of them sustaining injuries while others were reportedly detained; all of which happened in line of duty. We condemn any acts that intentionally obstruct journalists from doing their work which is guaranteed under Article 41 of the Constitution and other laws including the Access to Information Act of 2005 which guarantee the work of media practitioners and the right of access to information by citizens. The right to access to information aims at promoting transparency and accountability in all organs of the state and should therefore be promoted.
Economic rights of persons in areas neighbouring Makerere University
The Commission has also noted and condemns the unruly behavior of some of the students who participated in the riots during the days following the initial peaceful protest on Tuesday 22, October 2019. The subsequent days were characterized by violent clashes between students and security personnel and destruction of property and merchandise belonging to persons in the neighbouring surbubs of Kikoni and Wandegeya. The violent riots resulted into violation of economic rights for the people operating or residing in those Makerere University suburbs.
Recommendations with regard to the situation at Makerere University
Whereas the Commission notes the ongoing efforts by the management of Makerere University to address the current impasse with the students, we recommend the following urgent actions:
- Security forces should exercise restraint and apply proportionate force while handling aggrieved students.
- Security Organisations should identify the errant officers who carried out the brutal acts against students and journalists during the Makerere scuffle and hold them personally liable for their actions by bringing sanctions against them
- Students should desist from acts of lawlessness and hooliganism as a way of expressing dissatisfaction but instead use dialogue and always be mindful of the duty to respect the rule of law.
- Makerere University administration should enhance their leadership and problem-solving skills to stem the chronic violent conflicts with students
- The Ministry of Education should review the policy on tuition for students in public universities and their funding, taking into consideration the duty of the state to progressively enable all persons to access the right to education
- Government should increase its funding to Public Universities and subsidise taxes on scholastic materials and utilities to enable Uganda to achieve its Vision 2040.
- Students should always address their grievances through the designated channels available at the University using dialogue or seek legal redress through courts of law by utilising the available free legal-aid services provided by Non-Governmental Organisations, when avenues for dialogue have failed.
- Makerere University administration should as a matter of urgency work with the students’ body to amicably formulate a clear policy defining its public-private status.
- Appeal to criminal elements within the public to refrain from taking advantage of chaotic situations such as those involving strikes by students to advance their sinister motives, because the long arm of the law will catch up with you.
FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY!
Dr. Patricia Achan Okiria