Monday December 12 2016

We shouldn’t celebrate Human Rights Day but mourn lives lost

By Noor Nakibuuka Musisi

On December 10, Uganda joined the world to commemorate the International Human Rights Day. Well, I am aware that governments, civil society, associations et al do celebrate this day by organising conferences/ meetings, exhibitions, cultural events, debates, matches, etc but as all this goes on, I mourn the many women that we lose in the country as a result of preventable maternal deaths.

I hold to principles that human rights transcend boundaries and must prevail over State sovereignty, but what happens in reality in a least-developed country like Uganda leaves me with more questions.

Do we, for instance, have a State that we entered into a social contract with, put it in power and agreed to respect, protect and fulfill our rights as enshrined in the Constitution? Surprisingly, the Constitution has very beautiful provisions on women’s rights; “The State shall provide the facilities and opportunities necessary to enhance the welfare of women to enable them realise their full potential and advancement; The State shall protect women and their rights, taking into account their unique status and natural maternal functions in society (Article 33(2) and (3) of the Constitution of the republic of Uganda as amended.

Whilst such provisions exist on our legislations we still record large numbers of women that die unnecessarily during child birth. 438/100,000 live births of women dying annually is not a joke. This translates into more than 16 women dying everyday- well simply put again, a mini bus crushing every day. Do we know why? Because health facilities lack basic maternal health commodities including blood, gloves, oxygen, power cut offs, and personnel among others.

Imagine mobilising resources to celebrate an international day when you are sure that a mini bus full of women will crush even on such a day. Why not divert such funds to equip a health facility every year? Is it an issue of priority of one right to another? Indeed as always said, ‘Laws are silent in times of war’ and we forget that ‘today’s human rights violations are the causes of tomorrow’s conflicts.’ We need to uphold health as a right, for without it we compromise other rights.

It’s not surprising that the government has over and again lost funds in payment of remedies out of court decisions resulting from cases filed against it for its failure to uphold and protect women’s rights given their natural maternal functional role they play in society. Indeed through a case filed by Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) and others against Nakaseke District Local government (Civil suit No. 111 of 2012) , the High Court declared access to emergency obstetric care a human right and awarded damages of Shs365 to the husband and children of the deceased. These funds have been paid off to the complainants but the question is for how long will this happen? Will we ever think about prevention as a strategy?

This case presents a scenario where an expectant mother prepared to deliver from the facility, was there on time, got an obstruction while in hospital and could not access emergency obstetric care within the facility, why, because the health service provider had earlier on signed into the facility and went out without permission- one wonders where the supervisory role of the local government falls as mandated under the Local Governments Act. Sadly, this is not the only case but CEHURD has received so many of such cases each presenting a unique fact but all related to maternal deaths.

Will it thus be better for this country to commemorate the Human Rights day in another style? Government should instead mourn together with the families of the deceased the lives of the many women that die unnecessarily in child labour. There is nothing as painful as losing an expectant mother some of whom may have carried the pregnancy for nine months… the nausea, vomiting, eating all the time, constant urination, having to fit in maternity dresses, the discomfort that comes with pregnancy etc. expecting joy at the end of it all, but are betrayed by the health system leaving families speechless, making children orphans and husbands widowers. All this meanwhile, leads to a violation of a number of other rights including education (especially in homes where mothers are the bread winners of the family). Right to life, right to vote, rights of children to be nurtured by their parents, religion, culture, freedom from discrimination, among others. Is a Human rights day worth celebrating, remember the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.

Ms Nakibuuka Noor Musisi, program manager, Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development