HUMAN RIGHTS PROMOTION: WHAT JLOS WAS ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH INSPITE OF COVID19 CONSTRAINTS
By Joel Mugabi
Through its institutions charged with ensuring protection and promotion of human rights, the Justice and Law Sector (JLOS) registered a number of achievements in the fight against violations, according to the sector’s 2020-21 annual report.
During the period of reporting, Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), whose chairperson is Mariam Wangadya, cleared 14.8 per cent of cases filed, way below the target of 76 per cent. UHRC concluded only 70 complaints through mediation because its tribunal was non-functional for many months, but now, with the Commission fully constituted, more complaints are expected to be handled in the current financial year. Overall, the UHRC received 2,677 complaints, 1,781 from Males, 896 from females. Due to the fact that the reporting period included the general elections, the number of complaints received by the Commission increased by 5.5 per cent, from 2,538 to 2,677.
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Of the total number of complaints received, only 17.7 per cent were registered, translating to 473 (358 Male, 115 Female). A total of 2,204 complaints (1,426 male, 778 female) were referred to other appropriate institutions including Uganda Police Force (UPF), Judiciary, and the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA). Meanwhile, a total of 1,359 cases are pending tribunal hearing, of which 620 were pending allocation, 362 pending hearing and 377 partly heard. A draft Complaints Backlog Clearance Strategy has been developed to deal with the current tribunal case backlog.
There was also a reduction in registered human rights violations against JLOS officers from 624 violations in FY2016/17 to 230 in FY2020/21, thanks to the continued capacity building of JLOS staff, heightened human rights awareness creation of the public, and increased individual responsibility.
UHRC registered a total of 22 complaints of alleged human rights violations related to elections. These complaints touched on detention beyond 48 hours, loss of lives, alleged deprivation of the right to security of person, torture and loss of property.
In the same period, 153 police officers were dismissed and discharged from the Uganda Police Force (UPF) because of professional misconduct in breach of police standards. In December 2020, the Inspector General of Police and Chief of Defence Forces traced and paid a compassionate visit to 22 victims of the November 2020 18 and 19 riots and extended some financial help.
JLOS sector players also did their part in combatting Trafficking in Persons (TIP). During the reporting period, the categories of trafficking cases registered included 117 cases of human trafficking, 52 cases of attempted human trafficking, 42 cases of aggravated human trafficking, and three cases of suspected human trafficking. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) investigated 45 TIP cases and supported 284 victims, most of them female, in terms of medical care, temporary welfare and temporary movements for medical and investigation follow-ups. Abodo’s ODPP also started the process of development of a prosecution guide for TIP cases, which process is ongoing with support from the Human Trafficking Institute.
At Police’s Standards Unit (PSU), 2,226 complaints were filed against officers, with 1,341 investigated and handed over to the Directorate of Human Rights and Legal Services for redress, including hearing under the Police courts.
On enforcement of human rights awards, during the reporting period, the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs (MoJCA) paid out Shs3.5bn in compensation to victims of human rights violations.
For Jane Frances Abodo’s Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), the directorate was supported to conduct monitoring and capacity building visits on mainstreaming human rights standards in prosecution and investigations oversight in Masaka, Mbarara, Kabale, Arua, Masindi, Jinja, Mukono, and Mbale. The capacity building engagements focused on mainstreaming human rights standards in prosecution and investigations oversight.
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The ODPP also registered and perused over 15 cases involving human rights violations such as torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by police officers committed during arrest and detention of suspects. Abodo’s team also participated in the review of human rights legislation with the view of enhancing enforcement. It engaged the Parliament of Uganda as a member of a committee that prepared a report on the implications of the recently enacted Human Rights Enforcement Act 2019.
The JLOS Sector further prepared and submitted to the UN Human Rights Council. It also submitted the State Report in respect to the Convention against Torture (UNCAT) to the relevant Committee. It also commenced the preparation of the State report on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Meanwhile, UHRC submitted its independent report to the Committee on the implementation of the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in Uganda. MoJCA also finalized the draft National Action Plan (NAP) on Human Rights for consideration by Cabinet Secretariat.
The UHRC inspected a total of 494 places of detention which included 233 police stations, 181 police posts, 74 prisons, four remand homes and two military detention facilities throughout the 10 regional offices to assess compliance the set standards and conditions of living in detention facilities.
“Most of the detention facilities inspected, especially the prisons, had put in place a number of measures to contain the spread of corona virus and as a compliance measure to the MoH and government set SOPs,” reads the report in part. “They thus had hand washing facilities, hand sanitizers, facemasks for staff, temperature gun, ban on visitations, assignment of only specific staff to interact with inmates, holding of court sessions within the prison and ban on hired labour among other measures.”
But the Commission was concerned that some prison facilities such as in Rakai, Kyotera, Bukomansimbi, and Sembabule “did not have a government transport facility and they simply relied on private means to transport suspects to court.” Even in agencies such as UPF which had a fairly better fleet of vehicles, there were concerns of little or no fuel facilitation. The other concerns for detention facilities included the poor state of facilities, with some of them dilapidated.
On a positive side, UHRC Commissioners reported that the working conditions of prison staff had improved, new uniforms were given to staff, salary increment for low-ranking officers effected since August 2018, and there was improved housing for prison officers. “However, it is not the same with some Police Officers who continue to rent out of pocket and to seek shelter in old dilapidated housing structures.”
During the period under review, the mortality rate among prisoners reduced by 11.6 per cent from 4.3/1,000 to 3.8/1000 prisoners, and remains below the JLOS Uganda Prisons Service (UPS) annual benchmark of 5.6/1,000, and also the national bench mark of 7.0/1,000.
On issues of regulation and compliance, the NGO Bureau issued 309 new NGO certificates and 687 permits. Also, capacity building for 49 District NGO Monitoring Committees’ (DNMCs) was undertaken in several districts with the view of enhancing enforcement of NGO legislation and standards to enable compliance by non-state actors.
The Government Security Office inspected 28 blasting and magazine sites, conducted alert inspections in Entebbe, Mukono, Kampala central business district, and Wakiso during the festive season, and carried out 38 security assessments in Kampala and Mbale.
UHRC presented to Parliament its position on six Bills that were tabled in the FY 2020/21. The pieces of legislation were: Administration of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the National Curriculum Development (Amendment) Bill, 2020, the Employment (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill, 2020, the Patients’ Rights and Responsibilities Bill, 2019, and the Administrator General’s (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
The UHRC undertook human rights education for law enforcement, health workers, and media practitioners with the view of empowering them to respect human rights and freedoms in the performance of their duties.
Also, a total of 581 participants, 406 males and 581 females, were sensitized. UHRC further trained 63 security officers, 55 Male and eight Female, from UPF, UPS and the UPDF in the districts of Mityana, Kassanda, and Luwero on the concept of human rights, duties and responsibilities of duty bearers and rights holders in the protection and promotion of human rights and the mandate of the UHRC, Public Order Management Act (POMA), 2013 and its applicability in the enforcement of the Covid19 guidelines and SOPs and the Human Rights Enforcement Act, 2019.
At MIA, two staff from the Community Service Directorate attended a course on human rights conducted by Raoul Wallenberg Institute (RWI) in Nairobi/Kenya in association with the East African Community. The Ministry’s DCIC unit also trained 25 immigration staff in refugee law.
At the ODPP, human rights training targeting officers from the regional offices, Resident State Attorneys, and Resident State Prosecutors, Regional Police commanders, District Police commanders, and CID officers was conducted in the areas of Masaka, Mbarara, Kabale, Arua, Masindi, Jinja, Mukono, and Mbale.
At Dr Johnson Byabashaija’s UPS, human rights refresher trainings for 65 staff and offenders were undertaken.
At DCIC, 40 immigration officers drawn from regional offices and immigration headquarters participated in a three-day workshop at the Immigration Training Academy on investigations, prosecutions and human rights, while 25 immigration staff trained in Refugee Law.
JLOS sector players also engaged in public awareness on human rights standards and citizens’ responsibilities. Under the leadership of UHRC, the sector and its partners developed over 100,000 human rights IEC materials, spread awareness on human rights to millions of Ugandans through diverse media and physical engagements, held 102 community barazas, mobile human rights education promoted using the UHRC civic education van, human rights clubs in schools, and workshops and meetings in local government and communities. The engagements have empowered Ugandans to fight for their rights.
“I used to be beaten often by my husband, almost three times a week. But ever since the UHRC team came and sensitized the community on dangers of domestic violence and acts of domestic violence being unlawful which we both attended, now each time he wants to start beating or fighting, I remind him that I got contacts of UHRC where I can report his behaviours easily. I no longer experiences acts of domestic violence in form of beatings,” said a respondent (name withheld) from Nakapiripirit District.
‘’The Police of Palorinya used to demand for money before releasing suspects (police bond was not free) but during the community baraza meeting conducted by UHRC, we were told that police bond is free and hence we stopped giving money to police and they also no longer demand for it,’’ noted another from Palorinya Sub County in Obongi District.
In its road shows in 81 trading centers and villages of Mubende, Rakai, Kyotera, Butebo and Bundibugyo Districts, a total of 2,127 (1,268 males and 859 females) were sensitized on different themes which included rights and responsibilities of refugees, land rights, children’s rights, rights of suspects and on the mandate, powers and functions of the UHRC, and domestic violence, among others.
Through human rights and peace clubs, the Commission engaged a total of 468, 249 males and 219 females, students in Kasese (Bright Academy SS), Kakumiro (St Edward Bukumi SS, St Paul SS, St Albert Kakindo SS, St Joseph Kasambya SS, Nalweyo SS and Uganda Martyrs SSS). Others are: Kibaale (St Kiligwaijjo SS, Notre Dame Act John SS, Buyanja SS and Bwamiramira SS). Via electronic media, UHRC conducted 60 radio talk shows on 23 radio stations and broadcast 6,082 spot messages on 48 radio stations on different human rights themes and areas of focus. (For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994 [whatsapp line], 0779411734, 0200900416 or email us email@example.com).