Human rights defenders under their umbrella the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda – NCHRDUG have asked the government to expedite the bill that protects them.
They say that the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill 2020 was only read once during the 10th Parliament and the bill has since remained on the shelves. This came up during the 24th Human Rights Defenders Day Celebrations at Hotel Triangle in Mbarara City under the theme “Human Rights as a Pillar of Peace and a Fairer Society” on Friday.
Robert Kirenga, the Chairperson of the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda, says that they face harassment, intimidation, interference, and persecution in the course of their work noting that the Government has continued to apply laws that seek to restrict their work and silence them.
Kirenga says that much as several laws support human rights defenders like Article 38 which speaks about their activities and obligations, they want a specific law that recognizes, legitimizes, and protects their works as human rights defenders.
He says that they were happy when the Bill that protects their work made it to the floor of the 10th parliament but they are saddened that it has been shelved.
Emmanuel Momoh, the United Nations Representative has asked human rights defenders to remain devoted to pushing for economic, social, cultural, civil, political, and other rights in a collective way for individuals and society. He says the threats directed at human rights defenders undermine the principles of peace and democracy.
He added that, “Human defenders are a valuable asset in promoting susstainable peace and development. The need for greater solidarity among human rights defenders within and across the region has never been stronger”.
Momoh further revealed that Office of the United Nations High Comissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will continue to support the government national initiatives, including capacity building activities to prevent and respond to threats against all persons and specifically human rights defenders.
Mariam Wangadya, the Chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission who was a keynote speaker at the celebrations confirmed that Human rights defenders are threatened and harassed but asked them to utilize the desk that was set up at the Commission to address their challenges including the threats directed at them.
She also noted that, “We in the human rights community may not always do ourselves a favour. we can sometimes be perceived as ‘absolutists’- that rights are absolute! ladies and gentlemen, advancing this important agenda requires efforts and adjustments on both sides, based on mutual respect, learning and understanding. We need to jointly indentify how and where human rights can contribute to a society’s own roadmap towards stability and peace.”
The National Coalition for Human Rights defenders Uganda – NCHRDUG says they have registered more than 73 cases of discrimination, Harassment, arrests, and confiscation of equipment among others for the year 2021.
Ahead of the human rights defenders day, HRDs from different parts of the country participated in a walk around Mbarara city on Thursday to create awareness and the role they played by HRDs towards resolving different forms of abusein the society. Trees where also planted at the Independence grounds which was done to mitigate the effects brought about by climate change.
Commenting on the tree planting, the Deputy Mayor Mbarara City – Ms, Prisca Mugyenyi revealed that each tree planted will be named for future reference and thanked different HRDs for choosing to make Mbarara City green again.
In her speech she also noted that domestic violence and early marriages amongst young girls is on the rise in western Uganda and urged everyone to cotribute towards addressing this challenge.