Monday, September 12, 2011

Uganda posts dismal record on human rights scorecard

By Victor Bwire

Finally, Uganda submitted its human rights report to the UN Human Rights Council after failing to meet the July 4, 2011 deadline and causing anxiety as to whether the State was going to participate in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) or not. So far, it is only South Africa that has failed to submit its state report globally.

The submission of the government of Uganda report sets the stage for the country’s review by peers in October in Geneva before the UN Human Rights Council. The process aims to establish how far Uganda has implemented its human rights obligations as required by the UN. The review will be conducted by all the 47 member states of the Human Rights Council with other states participating as observer states.

When Uganda takes to the stage at the Human Rights Council working session in Geneva in October, it is expected to explain, in a three hour session, what steps it has taken in fulfilling its international human rights obligations and what intentions it has in improving the same. The UPR in analysing each country’s human rights situation relies on the report prepared by the State being reviewed, the UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other non-state actors. Nearly 27 organisations submitted reports on Uganda ahead of the review.

Stakeholders have already identified several weaknesses with the report in terms of concrete measures and actions the government has taken or intends to take to rectify the violation of fundamental human rights that have occurred in the country.

Lingering queries
Human Rights members and stakeholders are likely to raise the issue of lack of an independent judiciary, as seen in the government’s failure to honour court decisions including retaining the sedition law even after the Court declared it null and void, the intention to introduce the Public Order Management Bill 2009, use of military courts on civilians, long period time suspects spent in pre-trial detention, lack of legal representation, overcrowding and congestion in detention places, that the Rapid Response Unit detained people without charge and extracted confessions through by torture and why the Government is reluctant to establish a truth commission.

The government gives very flimsy reasons for retaining laws that criminalise sexual relationships between same-sex consenting adults including public mood and morality and ignoring the respect for human rights of the parties concerned. While the government recently passed regulations to guide the implementation of the Access to Information Act, there still exist a number of laws that hindered access to information and press freedom which the Government report is silent on.

Such laws include Penal Code Act, which still criminalised materials alleged to be seditious, sectarian and defamatory, and the Anti-Terrorism Act 2002, which prohibits “promoting” terrorism but did not expressly define those acts which constituted the promotion of terrorism.

The retention of the Media Offences Department within the police force charged with the responsibility of undertaking daily monitoring of the media with the resultant crease in the number of journalists criminally charged, assaulted and having their equipment seized is an issue that the government must be ready to provide answers to.

Government interference in the operations of non-governmental organisations especially the stringent registration process will come up during the review. The actions against members of the opposition whenever they plan public events will obviously be raised and what intention the government has to remedy the situation raised. Of particular concern will be the intention behind the government-proposed bill on Public Order Management, which stakeholders say could further imperil the right of freedom of assembly.

ARTICLE 19 in its submission to the UN had stated that freedom of expression was unjustly restricted by provisions in the Ugandan Penal Code, the Press and Journalist Act 1995, the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2002, and the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act 2010, the Electronic Media Act 1996 provided the Broadcasting Council with excessively broad powers and disregarded due process. The Government report did not address these concerns .The State will also be put to task to explain what measures it is taking to address general insecurity in the country.

The UPR is a process that brings objectivity and transparency in the analysis of human rights situations. Since no State likes to be blamed by the world community for failure to heed generally international standards, the UPR becomes an important tool of a world policy for the protection of human rights.

Through this process, citizens are able to monitor their government’s performance in human rights. Countries that are eager to have a positive balance sheet in the field of human rights will carefully evaluate any recommendations which have been addressed to them at the review, seeking to remedy any deficiencies to the greatest extent possible. Commitments that Uganda makes this October will form the basis of its human rights agenda for the next four years, when it will be time for another review in the world stage.

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