Lack of UHRC chair curtails justice

Tuesday August 04 2020
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As a human rights defender who is passionate about the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Uganda and world over, I write this with a heavy heart in relation to the fact that Uganda Human Rights Commission has not got another substantive chairperson since the passing on of Med S Kaggwa in November, 2019.

Uganda Human Rights Commission is the national human rights institution established under Article 51(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995 (as amended).
And under Article 51(2), it shall be composed of a chairperson and not less than three other persons appointed by the President with the approval of Parliament.

Under clause (3), the chairperson shall be a judge of the High Court or a person qualified to hold that office. Articles 52, 53 and 54 provide for the functions, powers and independence of the Commission.

The Commission has powers to issue summons or other orders requiring the attendance of any person before the Commission and the production of any document or record relevant to any investigation by the Commission and to question any person in respect of any subject matter under investigation before the commission.

However, the functions and powers of the Commission cannot be fully executed if its tribunal cannot be constituted to hear and determine the cases brought to it due to the absence of a substantive chairperson.

Over the years and in the most recent past, Uganda has experienced human rights violations and abuses with a number of citizens getting stuck when they report their matters to Uganda Human Rights Commission and yet little is done to address them. This does not only demoralise them, but also leaves them unable to access justice.

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In pursuance of enforcement of human rights in Uganda, we appreciate the recent enactment of the Human Rights (Enforcement) Act 2019 in line with Article 50(1) of the Constitution, which provides that any person who claims that a fundamental or other right or freedom guaranteed under the Constitution has been infringed upon or threatened, is entitled to apply to a competent court for redress, which may include compensation.

Under clause (2) of Article 50, any person or organisation may bring an action against the violation of another person’s or group’s human rights.

It will continue to be difficult for the Commission to execute its mandate fully if no substantive chairperson is appointed. Individuals and human rights defenders shall continue to report cases to the Commission, but the absence of a chairperson shall hinder the hearing and provision of remedies to the victims of the violations.

In the most recent past and as a result of the outbreak and prevalence of Covid-19, many issues of human rights violations and abuses have been reported throughout the country, including those perpetrated by local defence unit (LDU) personnel in bid to enforce the Ministry of Health and presidential directives regarding curfew hours.

As Uganda heads towards General Election in 2021, it is most likely that violations shall increase in relation to the recently announced Electoral Commission revised roadmap that proposes and calls for campaigns and electoral processes to take the online or media approach. Many stakeholders and citizens believe that this comes with challenges and might leave a big section of the population unable to participate in the electoral processes.

I have a strong feeling that Uganda has a number of competent and credible people who can take up the position of chairperson of the Commission and through this writing, the President is requested to appoint such a person with the approval of Parliament.

This will go a long way in reawakening the performance of the Commission and delivery of justice to all persons whose rights and fundamental freedoms are at stake.

Mr Mugisa is a human rights lawyer.
mugibert.blessing20@gmail.com

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