UHRC rejects Bill against public gatherings

Wednesday November 30 2011

By MERCY NALUGO

There is growing resistance from the public over the proposed Public Order Management Bill, 2011,with the latest being from the officials of the Uganda Human Rights Commission who noted that if it is passed in its present form will not comply with the human rights norms as enshrined in the Constitution and Uganda’s international human rights obligations.

“The Bill should aim at facilitating rather than prohibiting demonstrations in conformity with the law. The Bill should be precise, and balance the right to assembly with other rights and should only impose restrictions that are acceptable and justifiable in a free and democratic society,” noted the UHRC chairperson, Mr Medi Kaggwa.

Mr Kaggwa while appearing before the Legal committee currently scrutinizing the Bill to give UHRC’s views said Parliament should as a matter of urgency take note and act on the human rights concerns raised.

He said that whereas the objective of the Bill to regulate demonstrations is good, the right to peaceful assembly is provided for in the Constitution and in the regional and international treaties ratified by Uganda.

“The Constitution provides that no person shall prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others  or the fundamental or any other human rights and freedom of others or the public interest,” Mr kaggwa said.

He insisted the police must respect, facilitate and protect without discrimination the enjoyment of people’s fundamental rights.

The Bill has been widely criticized by the human rights defenders, the opposition and the Law Development Centre with arguments that it  breaches the fundamental rights to freedom of assembly, association, speech and expression enshrined in Article 29 of the Constitution.

The Constitution states that “these rights are inherent and not granted by the State” (Art 20) and that they cannot be limited, except to protect the rights of others and/or in the public interest.

The Bill also introduces a requirement for organisers to seek permission from the police before holding a ‘public meeting’. A public meeting is also defined very broadly to include a meeting of three or more people, in a public place, that discusses any “principles, policy, actions or failure of any government, political party or political organisation”.

Further, the Bill gives the police broad discretion to refuse permission for a public meeting if they have ‘reasonable cause’ and places onerous burdens on organisers of public meetings, such as requiring them to pay compensation for any loss caused by the meeting.

The Bill also gives police the power to use firearms in situations where such use of lethal force may not be justifiable – such as in arresting a person presenting ‘danger’ and resisting the authority of the police officer. The committee is currently meeting the Uganda Law Reform Commission.

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