Human Right Defenders Asks Gov’t to Reconsider Decision On OHCHR

Human rights defenders have asked the government to reconsider its decision to terminate the operations of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). 

On Tuesday, the Government terminated the operations of the Office in Uganda. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that given the strong government commitment to the promotion and protection of Human Rights, the prevailing peace throughout the country, coupled with strong National Human Rights Institutions and a vibrant Civil Society — with the capacity to monitor the promotion and protection of human rights throughout the country, it can no longer renew the mandate beyond the current term.

Dr. Livingstone Ssewanyana, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, says that if the government truly cares about human rights, then the decision should be re-evaluated.

On Twitter, human rights lawyer Nicholas Opio posted “The decision of the government of Uganda to decline the renewal of the @UNHumanRightsUG country mandate is unfortunate. I hope it is a misunderstanding that will be reversed,”

Ssewanyana says that while he would like to see the decision reversed, he was not surprised by the announcement.

According to Ssewanyana, the OHCHR office is crucial in providing, among other things, expertise, technical advice, and support to the local human rights commission and various actors in the civic space, including civil society organizations.

Dr. Sarah Bireete, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG), says that the government’s decision not to renew OHCHR’s mandate Office is an indication of their dissatisfaction with human rights watchdogs.

Dr. Bireete pointed out that the government has, over the years, paid less attention to human rights abuses and violations, most of which have been well documented.

According to Bireete, if the government does not reconsider its decision, citizens will be left to fend for themselves. She noted that even the once-vibrant civil society has been suffocated and weakened.

Meanwhile, the OHCHR office in Kampala and its headquarters in Geneva has not responded to the current matter. Efforts by our reporter to reach the concerned officials have been unsuccessful at the time of this report.

In August last year, Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, wrote to the Foreign Affairs Minister encouraging the country to make further efforts to ensure the respect and protection of the rights to equality and non-discrimination on any grounds. 

“I take note of Uganda’s commitment to encouraging continuous efforts in this regard, including in relation to allegations of excessive use of force by security forces. I also encourage Uganda to increase efforts to ensure freedom of expression and assembly,” reads the letter which followed the Universal Periodic Review of human rights records. 

Prior to Bachelet’s letter, Human Rights Watch, an international rights organization, released a report that documented different human rights abuses and violations that happened on the watch of the Ugandan government.

The report documented cases of enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, torture, rape, extortion, forced labor, and other forms of ill-treatment by police, army, military intelligence, and intelligence agencies in illegal detention centers during 2018, 2019, and around the January 2021 general elections. 

Later, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni addressed a delegation from Human Rights Watch and stated that he would not accept lessons on human rights in Uganda from anyone. However, he stated that his government was committed to implementing a “Zero tolerance” policy against torture and human rights violations, including those committed by the armed forces.

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