U.S Mission, Opposition Question Termination of UN Human Rights Office

The United States Ambassador to Uganda, Natalie E. Brown has expressed worry over government’s decision to terminate operations of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Uganda.

The concern come a day after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the government’s decision to terminate operations of the Office, a department of the United Nations Secretariat which is mandated to promote and protect the enjoyment and full realization of all rights established in the Charter of the United Nations and in international human rights laws and treaties.

The  office is mandated to prevent human rights violations, secure respect for all human rights, promote international cooperation to protect human rights and streamline the United Nations system in the field of human 

It has been in talks with the Government of Uganda about the modalities of a continued presence in the country. On January 4, 2023, the office sent to the permanent mission of the Republic of Uganda to the United Nations Office in Geneva an application for the renewal of the Host Country Agreement between the Government of Uganda and OHCHR.

But 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. 

However, Ambassador Natalie says that a society cannot advance if it does not respect human rights of its citizens. The Ambassador was speaking to journalists during the launch of the U.S Mission’s 60th anniversary edition of the “Report to the Ugandan People.”  

The report focuses on the U.S. government’s work in Uganda in regard to promotion of economic growth, improvement of health and education, strengthening security and fostering democratic values. 

“That is something that we advocate for around the world. Here in Uganda and the United States, we raise these issues of human rights because our experience tells us how important they are for people to be healthy, to have access to health care, access to education,” the Ambassador said.

She added that for economies to grow, governments, their institutions and the people who work for government and members of the communities have to respect the human rights of their fellow citizens.  

Natalie appealed to the Ugandan government to fulfill commitments on human rights and live up to the Ugandan Constitution in regard to protection of human rights and other commitments under the UN Charter and other international treaties that it is signatory to.

She noted that it is worrisome whenever human rights are not respected, emphasizing that there is need to uphold the law and hold accountable security forces, elected officials and those is executive positions when individuals’ rights are violated. 

“Civil Society Organizations play a huge role in it because very often, when rights are violated, people are not aware of the rights that they have, that they enjoy, and that should be protected. This is not about one particular organization or individual…it is about the collective responsibility that all of us share as human beings to respect and demand that human rights are respected,” she emphasized.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was established in Kampala in 2006, with the initial mandate focused on the human rights situation in the conflict-affected areas of Northern and North-Eastern Uganda. However, it was renewed in 2009 and expanded to cover the entire country and all human rights issues.

In February 2020, the mandate for the Office was further expanded to include the establishment of a Regional Human Rights Training Centre in Uganda; to provide training activities on the international human rights system for Government officials of interested States in the region, as well as national human rights institutions and civil society organizations.

The office was in the spotlight in the aftermath of the 2021 general election when military and police personnel clashed with a team of supporters of the National Unity Platform –NUP who were presenting a petition to the office over human rights violations in the country. Several journalists were beaten and injured during the scuffle that ensued.

In a separate statement, Leader of Opposition in parliament Mathias Mpuuga condemned the government decision saying that the development is not innocent.

“The problem is that they are in a spotlight and rather work in the dark. I want to advise that there is no amount of walking into the dark that is going to shield them from scrutiny over human rights. We are going to make it a matter of our agitation that there must be commitment to human rights,” said Mpuuga.

He added that in the global family, Uganda risks to be lined up as one of the pariah States.

“We believe that this decision was irrational and it is going to affect our standing among even States. And it will have effects on a number of activities we do with other nations. We don’t find reason justifiable enough…when actually human rights violations are on an upper trajectory, that anybody would claim that indeed the record is okay,” Mpuuga emphasized.

He said that there is no respect for human rights in the country given that government has on several occasions failed to account for different violations.

Mpuuga said that the Opposition is to demand an explanation from the government side when parliament sittings resume.

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