Saturday April 12 2014

Hold human rights abusers accountable

The latest report on the state of human rights in Uganda shows an upsurge in the abuses committed especially by State agencies. Ironically these are the institutions constitutionally mandated and maintained by the taxpayer to protect the citizens human liberties and freedoms.

During the year under review [2013], human right abuses increased from 2,725 to 4,753 which translates into 73 per cent rise, according to the report by Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC). It may not necessarily mean that the violations have increased. Rather it could also be that due to increased presence of human rights reporting centres, especially up-country and public awareness, more abuses have been exposed than in the past. Whichever the case may be, it proves rampant prevalence of human rights abuses across the country.

Every year police and other security agencies top the culprit list. Yet the police force has in the last seven years almost doubled its numerical strength in order to, among other objectives, increase community policing and curb such human rights abuses. Instead, the police continue to be one of the top culprits in some of these violations by detaining people for longer periods than the constitution allows, and many times using violence to quell peaceful demonstrations.

UHRC was established in 1995 to expose and address human rights abuses. It has delivered on the objective of exposure but has significantly failed to curb the abuses. Exposure alone is not enough. The culprits must be strictly held accountable for their wrongs. The Commission won’t achieve much success if government agencies remain the top offenders instead of being the strongest strategic allies in fighting these ills.

The relevant government agencies should enforce the anti-torture law, which holds violators of human rights individually liable even if they act under and in the name of government service. Probably, this will deter unscrupulous individuals in security outfits and other government agencies from committing torture which is the biggest component of the human rights abuses.

Government must also undertake to restrain its overzealous agents who are perpetual violators of human liberties clearly enshrined in our Constitution.