Uganda has made limited progress in GBV fight- report  

A new report on Uganda’s human rights performance on its global commitment to improving health and addressing sexual and gender-based violence, shows limited progress in the implementation.

While presenting the report in Kampala on Tuesday, Ms Jennipher Achaloi, the consultant who worked on the report, said that although Uganda has made considerable progress in improving maternal health, cases of sexual and gender-based violence are still very high in the country, among other issues.

Ms Achaloi was contracted by the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) to review and validate Uganda’s human rights performance and its implementation of the "Universal Periodic Review (UPR) 2022 recommendations on sexual reproductive health rights, and sexual and gender-based violence."

The UPR process is a unique mechanism under the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that assesses the human rights records of all UN Member States, a process that is essential for ensuring accountability, transparency, and improvements in the country's human rights situation.

Ms Achaloi noted in the report that besides the delay in accessing justice, some judges had limited capacity to handle emerging crimes like cyber harassment.

“Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) case backlog stands at 1,045 complaints. In 2023/2024 the UHRC received Shs19 billion instead of Shs58 billion needed to undertake its operation. This underfunding hurts the ability of the commission to reach the vulnerable communities,” she said.

The other issues noted in the report are “limited coordination of formal justice actors, understaffing of key institutions such as DPP and Uganda Police Force, high evidential value attached to GBV cases, limited knowledge on justice services and social, religious and cultural and institutional barriers towards GBV.”

The consultant, however, said some progress has been made in the fight. "The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) has undertaken robust community sensitization, built capacity of local leaders in GBV prevention and response, produced annual reports highlighting the state of human rights and gender equality as well as encouraging male participation in ending GBV,” she said.

According to the 2023 police crime report released last week, there were 14,681 cases of domestic violence recorded, sex-related violence (14,846), and child-related offenses (10,741).

During the meeting in Kampala where the report was presented, Mr Peter Eceru, program coordinator for advocacy at CEHURD, noted that there is also limited investment by the government to support victims of GBV and prevent the vice. The meeting was for the validation of the report.

“The GBV shelters are run by non-governmental organisations. Government has taken the background role only in terms of monitoring their operations but they are not actively running any of these GBV shelters,” he said.

The shelters are meant to be places where victims recover from –and receive psychosocial support and physical and information support.

Mr Franklin Maloba Wanyama, a government official who represented the Gender Ministry at the meeting in Kampala, said they are constrained by funding.

“Some of the challenges might be budget cuts which might affect because sometimes a ministry might prioritise but the funding is not given. Ministry of Gender is one of the ministries that get limited resources but the Ministry is also trying its best to implement activities targeting all categories of people,” he said.

Uganda, like all participating countries, undergoes a regular review to evaluate its human rights performance and implement necessary reforms. The UPR involves a comprehensive assessment of Uganda's human rights record, recommendations from other countries, and a commitment to implementing these recommendations.

Mr Eceru explained to this newspaper that they were meeting with civil society organisations and government officials on Tuesday in Kampala to validate the findings.

“Uganda was under review in February 2022, that was the third review. We received recommendations at that point. We will again be reviewed after five years, but midway we shall have a midterm review to see how we are performing.

“During the last review Uganda received about 273 recommendations from peers on how to improve human rights situation in the country. This review is based on the recommendations that the country had accepted to undertake to improve health, but also gender-related issues.

“We are glad to note that we have made significant progress especially regarding maternal health. We have had a reduction in cases of maternal mortality from 336 per 100,000 live births to 189 per live births. That is good progress but we have a lot of work to do to push maternal deaths to about 70 per 100,000 live births [as is the government’s commitment] by 2030,” he added.

Ms Achaloi also noted that per capita expenditure on health has slightly improved from US$21.7 in the 2022/2023 financial year to $23 in the 2023/2024 financial year. Out-of-pocket expenditure on health has also reduced from 41 percent to 37 percent. This amount, she said falls short of the World Health Organisation's tolerable out-of-pocket expenditure of 20 percent to reduce inequality in accessing care.

Mr Eceru said there are still laws that affect access to health services for some people. “For example when you are talking about dealing with marginalized groups and key populations, especially about HIV/AIDS, you still have laws like the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) which push those who have HIV, the key populations underground and we do not get to reach them with the message and they do not get to come out for treatment and support,” he argued.

However, following the enactment of the AHA, the Ministry of Health last year issued a statement, asking health workers to offer services without discrimination or stigmatizing anyone.

Dr Allan Kasoozi, an official who represented the Health Ministry at the meeting said they follow the laws that the government has put in place.

“When it comes to access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) services, one of the biggest bottlenecks is the policy and legal environment. We have the constitution, so, it might not be within our means as the technocrats at the Ministry [of Health] to advocate against ourselves. We need more advocacy around SRH,” he said.

Ms Juliet Logose, the Central Regional Human Rights Officer at UHRC, said the government has done a lot in addressing human rights situations related to health. During the validation meeting, however, she noted that there were gaps.

“We have very good policies, but we can add some information related to how these policies have caused a positive impact as far as reproductive health rights are concerned. The issue of key population, regarding strengthening HIV/AIDS prevention and response, we still have challenges about access to the health-related services for the key population,” she said.