Today, December 10th, 2014, Uganda joins the rest of the world to celebrate the International Human Rights Day. A day which was established at the 317th Plenary meeting of the United Nations General Assembly by resolution 432 (v) which was adopted on December 04th, 1950.
It is a day to “appropriately celebrate” the adoption on December 10th, 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR was one of the greatest achievements of the new United Nations and the Declaration continues to set a common standard of achievement for all people and all nations.
Today, this remarkable international legal instrument has inspired the conception of an international standard of human rights which is composed of over 60 human rights instruments.
Under the hashtag #Rights365 (symbolizing respect of rights all year – 365 days. Making everyday, a human rights day), the global conversation is unfolding on twitter. If you get a moment, join the forum. Your voice matters.
In his special message for the day, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon noted, “We declare that Human Rights are for all of us, all the time; Whoever we are and wherever we are from; no matter our class, our opinion, our sexual orientation”
On his part, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein observed, “These human rights are not country-specific. They are not a reward for good behavior, or particular to a certain era or social group. They are the inalienable entitlements of all people, at all times and everywhere, 365 days a year”
Over the year, Uganda’s human rights movement has experienced it’s highs and lows. If you may, let us take stock of the state of observance of rights so enshrined under Chapter Four of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda and by inference, the UDHR.
Article 23: Protection of personal liberty
This Article provides that no person shall be deprived of personal liberty except in very specific circumstances that are well detailed. Sadly, we continue to see more illegal arrests founded on frivolous claims and incomplete investigations. People are arrested, detained then released without charge.
Human Rights Watch documented cases of illegal arrests and detention of Salaf Muslims in 2013 in the mission by the Ugandan government to breakup the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
In 2014, Kiiza Besigye’s aide, firebrand youth activist and FDC stalwart Sam Mugumya was arrested allegedly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This case is shrouded with devious controversy with DRC officials alleging that he was arrested for illegal entry while the Kampala regime maintained that he was arrested for being involved in subversive rebel activities in the jungles of the Congo with intentions to overthrow the Ugandan government.
Further, after such arrests, the police and other authorities often deny knowing the whereabouts of these suspects and they deny them access to counsel, their family and other rights as enshrined under this Article and other international legal instruments.
Article 24: Respect for human dignity and protection from inhuman treatment
Under the Article, the constitution espoused the need to protect all people from any form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The media has been awash of stories of these violations. The KCCA law enforcement staff and the police have been accused of grossly assaulting suspects. Uganda Prisons staffs have also been accused of torturing some inmates while in detention. We have also seen a rise in the number of legislations that seek to unconstitutionally criminalize certain acts and proceed to impose unreasonably harsh penal sanctions.
Article 26: Protection from deprivation of property
This Article specifically provides for the right to own property.
Under the draft, “The Prohibition of Promotion of unlawful Sexual Practices Bill, 2014” which was published on October 29th, 2014 to take the place of the recently annulled Anti-Homosexuality Act, section 2 (2) (c) seeks to criminalize leasing, subleasing, or allowing to be used any premises for purposes of engaging in unnatural sexual practices. The penal sanction is imprisonment of up to seven years.
This offence is overly broad as it incriminates honest and fair services of a landlord who extends his premises to a tenant who turns out to have allegedly committed an offence under this bill. It is important to observe that no landlord or member of the public is authorized to access the premises of another unlawfully. How then is it reasonably expected that people should know what happens in another’s private residency? The section flouts the principle of legality and presents an affront to the right to property.
Article 27: Right to privacy of person
Uganda continues to have a legal regime that falls short of fully protecting the right to privacy and yet promotes intrusive legislation of interest to regime perpetuity.
Whereas the constitution is unambiguous on this right, several Acts of parliament and structural challenges within society have brought it under constant attack. Further, we tend to confuse between laws aimed at unjustifiably controlling public morality and the laws that can deliver the right to privacy. Same applies to the right to privacy and right to freedom of press.
The establishment is ushering in intrusive legislation that infringe on people’s privacy in the interest of it knowing all what people are doing where, when, and with whom. And people continue to passively volunteer this information with limited or no regrets at all.
In 2014, the right of privacy of local musician Desire Luzinda was viciously violated when the tabloids and social media became awash with her nude images and videos for all to see after her jilted Nigerian lover leaked the same in a revenge-porn case of the year.
Uganda needs laws that will protect this right by keeping away the intrusive eye of government while criminalizing acts of leaking or otherwise of private details of the person. I am alive to the fact we are not living in the Stone Age era but we can at least maintain reasonable respect to the privacy of individuals.
Article 28: Right to fair hearing
Under this Article, the constitution provides that every person shall be entitled to a fair, speedy and public hearing before an independent and impartial court or tribunal established by law. It further provides that every person charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until proved guilty or until that person has pleaded guilty.
This right continues to be violated by a criminal justice system that is overburdened by soaring numbers of remandees and yet the infrastructure and human resource is not expanding at equal measure. The state is further yet to pass the National Legal Aid Policy that would provide for clear funding for legal representation of criminal suspects.
The police and the media also continue to collude to form kangaroo courts of public opinion where they connive to film suspects during arrests or parade them after arrests for the publication. The idea is to show that the police is working and that the media, is reporting sensational stories that the public will love to watch; meaning more traffic and higher revenues from advertisers. In all this, no one cares about the rights of suspects who are even yet to be formally charged. Their reputations are tarnished but who are they to demand justice from the all powerful media houses and people in uniform holding guns and teargas?
Consequently, suspects are declared guilty by the public even before the trial. Emotional folks have even demanded that a lawyer should not represent certain suspects in court. When a lawyer comes up to represent such an accused person whose case is of interest to the media, the lawyer is harassed and called all sorts of names. Cases in point include the case of the maid who tortured a toddler and the Kasiwukira case is starting to follow that same trend. It is important to observe that as a matter of principle, a lawyer should not be judged on the basis of a client he or she represents and that every person is entitled to a lawyer of his or her own choice.
What we can demand however is that court ensures that justice prevails given the facts of the case so adduced.
Article 29: Protection of freedom of expression, assembly, and association
On 05th August 2013, the parliament passed the regressive bill now Public Order Management Act, 2013 and President Museveni assented to it on October 02nd, 2013. The Act restricts space for the right to exercise these freedoms peacefully to participate in critical debates on issues of governance, anti-corruption or generally express peaceful dissent.
It is important to observe that this law was brought in response to the Constitutional Court case of Muwanga Kivumbi v Attorney General which declared unconstitutional the wide discretionary powers of Inspector General of Police (IGP) to prohibit the conduct of assemblies that in the opinion of the IGP, would trigger a breach of peace. The law sought to unconstitutionally re-introduce the powers of section 32 (2) of the Police Act.
Since the passing of the law, we have seen cases of the police blocking several meetings and stopping certain people from attending certain meetings. Former Premier Amama Mbabazi has had to embarrassingly struggle with the police to attend a couple of public gatherings and FDC’s Kiiza Besigye was recently blocked from attending a free and fair conference in Masaka after being blocked by the police on alleged grounds that he was never invited and that he was not a resident of Masaka. Cases of arrests of opposition leaders for managing “unlawful society” have been reported and some are ongoing
Further, in 2013, the police arrested over 28 people who were peacefully distributing Black Monday materials to members of the public in protest of the rampant corruption. Some were charged while others were released without charge but warned against engaging in same activities.
Further, the current NGO Registration (Amendments) Bill, 2013 threatens enjoyment of these freedoms. The letter and spirit of the Bill is focused on curtailing freedom of assembly and association by imposing mandatory registration of NGOs, proposing other stringent re-registration requirements, and granting the NGO Board overly broad powers to manage, inspect, arbitrary discipline, and involuntarily dissolve organizations. The bill in it’s current state usurps the autonomy and independence of civil society and further shrinks spaces for freedom of opinion and expression through associations which is in contravention
Article 34: Rights of Children
During the month of November, 2014, I worked closely with UNICEF Uganda in a couple of conferences aimed at encouraging the public and government to invest in children. The engagement can be found online via #InvestInUgChildren #CRC25 on twitter and UNICEF Uganda’s accounts.
Sadly, during the same month, baby Ryan Ssemaganda brutally met his death while trying to look for his mother’s love. The mother had been arrested for vending oranges on Kampala streets and was denied access to her child while in detention. The understandably restless toddler was sadly run-over by a KCCA vehicle within the KCCA compound. This should probably not have happened had the toddler been granted his inherent right to breastfeed or generally be in the company of the mother.
Baby Arnella Kamanzi video of a nanny torturing her also gripped the country, and the world, with shock. The maid is filmed stepping on the toddler’s back and hitting her with a torch. The case is now before court and it is hoped that due process will prevail to ensure that justice is delivered.
Whereas laws do exist to provide mostly reactionary interventions, the structures meant to protect the children have all been wrecked down and more and more children are suffering as a result. We must put this right by filling the structural gaps if enforcement of these legislations is going to produce the desired results.
On a good note, the constitutional court struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Act on grounds that it had been passed without quorum. As the new bill sees the light of day, it is imperative that we look to engage from a reasoned narrative as opposed to approaching the debate from an emotional and naïve perspective. It is only by that that we shall come up with progressive laws that are good for this country and that respect rights of all, without any form of discrimination.
On a wider context, the human rights movement in Uganda needs to build on the positive results achieved and move on to champion more spaces to ensure that every day, is a human rights day for all. The Uganda Human Rights Commission and the Judiciary need to step up and ensure that cases of those whose rights have been violated are handled expeditiously and that the fruits of the verdict are indeed enjoyed.
Happy World Human Rights Day!
Link to a report UGANDA: “Where Do We Go For Justice?” launched on 27th February 2015 by Chapter Four Uganda at Serena Hotel, Kampala. The research documents cases of abuse of the rights of Sexual Minorities in Uganda’s Criminal Justice System.