KAMPALA – Cabinet’s resolution to start a human rights sub-committee has attracted criticism from the Uganda Human Rights Commission -UHRC, Chairperson – Mariam Wangadya, describing the move as an attempt to usurp the mandate of her organ, contrary to the 1995 Constitution.
The commission was established to monitor the human rights situation in the country in wake of Uganda’s violent and turbulent history that had characterised past regimes, which practiced arbitrary arrests, detention without trial, torture, and brutal repression with impunity on the part of security organs.
Wangandya’s outburst followed a October 31, 2022 cabinet meeting under the chairmanship of President Yoweri Museveni, which resolved 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 condemned the cabinet for establishing a separate unit to follow up on human rights issues in the country instead of empowering her body, which is constitutionally mandated to handle such problems.
“We have an abled Chairperson; very abled 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, ” complained Wandagya, making reference to her previous position as a Deputy Inspectorate of Government – IGG to justify her capability to lead a committed team of Commissioners to execute their mandate.
She noted that government needed to increase the Commission’s funding from Ugx19b to ugx58b, 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, in addition to some minor issues.
She said that they lack sufficient cars for transporting staff to the field.
The three commissioners who were sworn in on 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 Rtd Col Stephen Basaalirwa. The trio joined the commission head – Wangadya and three others including Shifrah Lukwago, Crispin Kugiza Kaheru, and Jacklet Atuhaire Rwabukurukuru.
Justice Buteera observed that the appointment of the three commissioners came at a time when there was a public outcry about 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 Buteera, before calling upon the commission to ensure that as promoters of human rights and freedoms, their work depended on cooperation, collaboration and coordination with other state organs, especially the judiciary.
According to the UHRC annual report, in 2021, 3,624 complaints were registered, 602 of which were recorded as raising from human rights violations as guided by the Commission’s admissibility criteria, which number reflects a 9 per cent increment.
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.
Additional reporting by URN