More than seven months since President Museveni assented to the much-lauded Human Rights Enforcement Act, 2019, the law is yet to be gazetted despite reminders and appeals to government officials charged with the responsibility.
The gazette is the official government publication in which all official communication, including appointments, notices, declarations, transactions, contracts and legislations are published. The failure or refusal to gazette the instrument renders the acclaimed law unenforceable and implies that those who may wish to petition courts based on its provisions cannot proceed.
Several litigants who approached Sunday Monitor and others we interviewed say they have received conflicting answers from both the government printer, Uganda Printing and Publishing Co-operation (UPPC), at Entebbe and the Attorney General Chambers, who are supposed to submit the instrument for gazetting.
“We went to the Attorney General Chambers and we were told the law was submitted to Entebbe UPPC for gazette. In Entebbe, we were told the law is yet to be submitted. We think this is deliberate because some of those in government are going to be affected,” a member of a group that intends to sue government relying on the provisions in the new law said.
We asked the Attorney General, Mr William Byaruhanga, about the fate of the law. He advised us to contact Ms Harriet Lwabi, the director of First Parliamentary Counsel. Ms Lwabi said the instrument was submitted for gazette. She, however, promised to revert to this newspaper “with more information”.
“It is unenforceable until it is gazetted. The old regime of human rights enforcement is what applies for the time being,” activist and human rights lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde, said.
“This is a poor man’s law. No one gives a damn about the human rights of the poor in Museveni’s government. The President wants their votes. The JLOS [Justice Law and Order Sector] organisations use the poor only as statistics for justifying DGF [Democratic Governance Facility] grants and other subventions,” he added.
Some activists argue that the law is likely to be affected by the politics of the forthcoming 2021 polls.
For the past, at least two decades, an increase in human rights violations have been documented in the months preceding and after the general elections.
“The law was assented to by the President, but a procedural requirement to gazette the law was not done. In my opinion, this means that litigants cannot use the law to sue government and, indeed, there is a case to that effect. Yes, it can be inferred that government realised the implications of the law on the different security agencies and decided to hold onto the law and not have it gazetted,” Ms Sandra Oryema, the legal aid manager at the Public Interest Law Clinic (PILAC) based at the Makerere University Law School, said.
She, however, explains that the delay to gazette the instrument could be further explained by some loopholes in the same.
“Also, while it’s an enforcement act, it requires the security agencies to cooperate in order to identify those who commit abuses. The law in its current state also says no one can claim immunity.
“This would mean that the President under the law, in its current state, cannot claim immunity. The delay, therefore, maybe intended to amend some provisions of the Act,” she added.
Lawyers have previously called the amendment of the laws that provide for the gazette, arguing that it has outlived its relevance.
The Human Rights (Enforcement) Act, 2019, gives effect to article 50 (4) of the Constitution by providing for the procedure of enforcing human rights. Additionally it provides for:
1. Enforcement of rights and freedoms by the High Court.
2. Enforcement of rights and freedoms by magistrate courts.
3. General provisions on human rights suits.
4. Personal Liability for infringement of rights and freedoms.
5. Progressive realisation of rights and freedoms.
6. Loss of immunity from prosecution.
7. Unconditional release of persons unreasonably detained.