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CSOs say UHRC Report weak on political and civil rights violations

UHRC officials hand over report to Parliament Speaker Thomas Tayewbwa. CSOs have said the report needs to focus on all areas of concern in 2021. COURTESY PHOTO

ANALYSIS | THE INDEPENDENT | The 24th annual report on the state of human rights and freedoms in Uganda 2021 compiled by the Uganda Human Rights Commission-UHRC has come under scrutiny from the experts and rights activists for paying little attention to human rights issues witnessed during the 2021 general elections.

The Uganda Human Rights Commission Chairperson, Chairperson Mariam Wangadya submitted the report to parliament Tuesday before it was launched at the Sheraton Hotel in Kampala. The 271 paged report consists of 12 chapters which include a chapter focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects in 2021, externalization of labor to the Middle East, the situation in Kalangala, and Buvuma Islands, the Extractive Industries in the Karamoja sub-region, and enforced disappearances in Uganda.  (click to read full UHRC report)

Other chapters discuss the plight of urban refugees, juvenile justice, and access to electricity and highlight on emerging human rights concerns during the disarmament process in the Karamoja sub-region, teenage pregnancies, social media effects, and terrorism attacks. The last three chapters highlighted UHRC and the Commission’s position on Bills, guidelines, and treaties and an update on Uganda’s reporting to International and regional Human Rights mechanisms and ratification of treaties.

There is no chapter dedicated to the 2021 general election despite being a major event of the year. Dr. Zahra Nampewo, the Director of the Human Rights and Peace Center-HURIPEC, says that the report largely covers economic rights, and yet a lot of Civil and Political Rights violations occurred during the election year and are treated lightly in the report.

Dr. Nampewo observed that the report makes a mention of the lack of access to justice and misinformation in chapter one but is devoid of details like the beatings by security personnel during the election period and limitations on the movement of especially opposition political politicians.  She says that the restrictions triggered by COVID-19 impacted people’s political rights in different ways and yet the report doesn’t capture the issues.

Sylvia Namubiru, the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Service Provider’s Network -LASPNET, says that whereas 2021 was charged with a lot of political activities, the report only speaks of political rights in a scattered manner.

Chapter five of the report talks about enforced disappearances in the year 2021 and gives a list of people who reportedly disappeared. The list of over 300 persons is large of people who disappeared in 2020 was presented before Parliament last year.

The Commission also reports about 69 complaints of alleged disappearances, which they received and Investigated and resolved 64 cases. All the missing people disappeared in 2020 during the nomination and campaign period. Namubiru says that this particular chapter attempts to highlight political and Civil Rights during the election year albeit inefficiently.

For instance, she says, there were arrests conducted on elections days involving opposition members, violations of freedom of expression and association, and torture among others, which the report doesn’t capture.

Another aspect of political and civil rights raised by Namubiru was the shrinking space of Civil Society Organizations, which ultimately affects the transparency and democratic process of an election.

She specifically referred to the closure of 54 Non -governmental Organizations, a move that affected their plan to work together to monitor elections, provide civic education, and advocate for a democratic electoral process.

Namubiru further raised the issue of the internet shutdown during an election conducted amidst limited movement due to COVID-19 and its effect on the operations of the media houses. The shutdown coupled with mishandling of the media personnel by especially security personnel, which Namubiru says should have been discussed in the 2021 human rights and freedoms report.

Sarah Bireete, the Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Governance-CCG observes that the report concentrates more on the social and economic rights and pays lip service to the political and Civil rights yet 2021 was an election year with elections held in a strange environment occasioned by the COVID-19 Pandemic. She says the authors of the report were trying to be politically right by avoiding delving into the other equally important issues resulting from an election year.

The Chairperson of the Commission, Mariam Wangadya says there are several election-related issues in the report including complaints filed to the Commission about missing people, and also the number of people in detention.

Last year, the Commission released its 22nd and 23rd report. In its 23rd report, the Commission dedicated the first chapter to elections and COVID-19. In this chapter, the report discussed the legal framework regarding the elections, events of nomination, and campaigns and the events of the election days.

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