Last week, I was having a chat with Edward Church, the Advocacy and Networking Officer of the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders in Uganda which is hosted at HURINET and Founder of Youth Freedom Works about the relationship between human rights and sustainable development and the state of apathy amongst Ugandan youths today.
It was not long before we got talking about the Dutch government support and the unwavering commitment shown by the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Uganda, H.E Alphons J.A. Hennekens not only to the human rights movement but also the Justice Law & Order Sector amongst other key government sectors.
In 2001, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ignored the primacy of human rights in the strategies to achieve the goals under an erroneous belief that human rights would not be measured. This was later to significantly lead to failure in realizing many goals.
For instance, MDG 2 without specific reference to the right to free and non-discriminatory primary education, it called for “universal primary education”.
This situation has however since changed and UN member states are now held to account for their human rights record.
In principle, the object of human rights is to empower women and the marginalized, promote equal access to public services, ensure security for property rights and generally promote policy coherence and a monitoring and accountability system based on the principles of human rights. It is critical as it substantially advances the means to a productive life which is necessary for any sustainable development.
The human rights movement in Uganda has come a long way. The supreme law of the land entails specifics of human rights to be upheld under the bill of rights in Chapter 4 of the 1995 Constitution.
The state has a duty to ensure that these rights are protected. The civil society and distinguished human rights defenders from across the country continue to work with real tenacity to further the cause of the movement.
However, of recent, the same government which came to power in 1986 and brought space for many of these freedoms has since been accused of systematic curtailing of the same spaces that they very nobly championed in the name of adjusting to deal with the latest realities of society.
In a human rights report published on Tuesday, October 2011 in Geneva, the UN Member States through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which is basically a human rights mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council established to improve human rights in each of the 193 UN member states heavily criticized Uganda’s human rights record.
Most of the issues highlighted in many of the damning human rights reports include cases of unwarranted restrictions on civil liberties such as freedom of assembly, association, and restrictions of freedom of press; lack of respect for the integrity of the person such as torture, harsh prison conditions, restrictions on right to a fair trial, incommunicado and lengthy pretrial detention while right to bail continues to come under invariable assail; violence and discrimination against marginalized groups such as women and persons with disabilities.
All this is habitually compounded by unbridled corruption and bribery tendencies which now characteristically oil the service machinery in this country. In addition, the bills violating human rights law being brought on the floor of parliament some of which have dramatically been passed into law such as the Public Order Management Act exacerbate the situation.
Some schools of thought view the human rights notion as a new phenomenon invented by former colonial powers to employ as a tool to remotely control destinies of African nations.
I reverentially submit that in spite of of one’s opinion, the intrinsic connection between sustainable development and the rule of law is overt. Evidence exists to underline just how human rights principles of accountability, transparency, and access to public services such as justice, including the rights of the most vulnerable groups of the populace are fundamentally decisive ingredients of a sustainable development agenda.
If I may add, numerous pressures associated with human rights from western powers are squarely because we as a people have no or little empathy for the poor, disabled and marginalized. Many a times, our very own people are at fault while exercising their powers with utter impunity.
Going forward, issues pertinent to access to justice such as the right to a speedy trial need to be guaranteed. To do this, we need to fast track the national legal aid policy which supports access to justice for the indigent and marginalized to provide more viable alternatives to divert many petty conflicts from the congested court systems and increase representation for those groups whenever they have to litigate.
In addition, rights such as the right to education, rights of women, children, persons with disabilities, minority groups such as the Batwa, economic rights, access to information, just and fair treatment in administrative decisions among others need to fostered in not only the rather flowery language in policy documents but also at implementation stage to attain a sustainable development agenda where all are gainfully productive, irrespective.
For us to attain sustainable development for all, our current and future development framework from policies to implementation should be founded on principles of human rights, rule of law, and universal values of equality, access to justice and security to spur an industrious populace which has the means.