The cabinet’s decision to start a human rights sub-committee has riled the Uganda Human Rights Commission Chairperson, Mariam Wangadya. She criticizes the decision as an attempt by the cabinet to usurp the mandate of the Commission, which was established under the 1995 Constitution.
The decision to establish the permanent commission to monitor the human rights situation in the country was in recognition of Uganda’s violent and turbulent history that had been characterized by arbitrary arrests, detention without trial, torture, and brutal repression with impunity on the part of security organs during the pre and post-independence era.
Wangandya’s outburst follows a decision taken by the cabinet on October 31st, 2022 chaired by President Yoweri Museveni to name a nine-member sub-committee spearheaded by the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Norbert Mao to investigate the alleged human rights abuses in the country.
Mao, who pushed for the establishment of the Subcommittee, said it would provide an institutional framework at a strategic level to spearhead a coordinated and holistic approach to human rights enforcement in the country. Speaking at the swearing-in of three UHRC Commissioners, Wangandya criticized the cabinet for establishing a separate unit to follow up on human rights issues in the country instead of empowering the Commission, which is mandated by law to do the job.
“We have an able Chairperson, very able Commissioners, and competent staff. What government should do is arm us with the necessary resources to effectively deliver on our mandate instead of creating a Cabinet Committee or whatever desk to attempt to take over our roles. We have not failed to work. We have simply been starved of resources ” said Wandagya, making reference to her previous position as a Deputy Inspectorate of Government to justify her capability to lead a committed team of Commissioners to execute their mandate.
She said that Government needs to increase the Commission funding from Shillings 19 billion to Shillings 58 Billion annually for them to ably execute their mandate. She said that with the available funding, they can only foot bills such as rent for their head offices and the 14 regional offices and some other items.
She said that they lack sufficient cars for Transporting staff to do work such as conduct investigations, write reports, disseminate them, hold tribunal sessions to deal with the backlog of cases, conduct research, and reach out to the larger public among others.
The three commissioners who were sworn in Tuesday at a ceremony presided over by Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera at the Court of Appeal in Kampala are Simeo Nsubuga, Alex Omara Apitta, and Col. Rt. Stephen Basaalirwa. They now join the commission Chairperson Wangadya and other commission members; Shifrah Lukwago, Crispin Kugiza Kaheru, and Jacklet Atuhaire Rwabukurukuru
Speaking at the event, Justice Butera observed that the appointment of the three commissioners comes at a time when there is a public outcry by different Human Rights activists and Citizens on the rights violations.
“The process of handling complaints on human rights violations must ensure that Victims receive effective redress expeditiously and that the perpetrators are held accountable for the human rights violations,” said the Deputy Chief Justice before calling upon the commission to ensure that as promoters of human rights and freedoms, their work heavily depends on cooperation, collaboration and coordination with other state organs especially the Justice, Law and Order Sector if they are to achieve their mandate.
One of the newly sworn-in Commissioners, Omara Apitta noted that there are human rights violation cases being reported across the country and committed to working with the team to investigate the cases and offer redress to the victims as the law provides.
A number of human rights violations have been reported in the past three years due to actions resulting from the COVID-19 lockdown and the 2021 general elections where security agencies were accused of beating, torturing, abducting, and killing people.
According to their annual report, in 2021 the UHRC received 3,624 complaints, 602 of which were registered as raising human rights violations as guided by the Commission’s admissibility criteria. The report further indicates that there was a 9 percent increase in the complaints received from the 3,283 complaints received in 2020 and also, a 9 percent increase in the complaints registered from the 549 complaints that were registered in 2020.
Article 52 (1) of the Uganda Constitution lays down the functions of the Commission as to investigate, at its own initiative or on a complaint made by any person or group of persons against the violation of any human right; visit jails, prisons, and places of detention or related facilities with a view of assessing and inspecting conditions of the inmates and make recommendations; establish a continuing program of research, education, and information to enhance respect of human rights;
The other functions are; to recommend to Parliament effective measures to promote human rights including the provision of compensation to victims of violations of human rights, or their families; to create and sustain within society the awareness of the provisions of the Constitution as the fundamental law of the people of Uganda and educate and encourage the public to defend this Constitution at all times against all forms of abuse and violation among other functions.