Human Rights Defenders Call for Dialogue on Protection of Rights in Upcoming Elections

“…We can only make our elections better, smoother and cleaner when we, as Ugandans in various levels, engage with each other and discuss the sticky issues that make our elections at times not what they should be,” said Justice Simon Byabakama, while delivering his keynote address at the 7th Annual Human Rights Defenders Forum.

Convened by the Human Rights Centre Uganda (HRCU) at Silver Springs Hotel, Bugolobi on 18th – 20th March 2020, the forum reflected on the theme: “Human Rights Defenders and Elections: Towards Effective Promotion and Protection of their Rights and Work”. It provided a platform for human rights defenders (HRDs) countrywide to share experiences, lay practical strategies for networking and collaboration between state and non-state actors, and discuss available mechanisms for the promotion and protection of rights of HRDs.

In the keynote address, Justice Byabakama, the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission (EC) underscored the need for an effective communication framework, especially for reporting rights abuse. “This framework or platform should accommodate voters’ rights abuses and that of HRDs since most of the rights’ abuses are never reported and if at all done, most come in late during the post-election period,” he said.

Ms Margaret Sekaggya, the Executive Director at HRCU, noted that research shows numerous human rights challenges relating to the freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of association and torture are encountered during the elections period in Uganda. She underscored the fact that HRDs play a crucial role in ensuring that communities are aware of their rights and responsibilities and enjoy their rights and fundamental freedoms. She called upon the forum to reflect on how best state and non-state HRDs can work together to have the necessary protection they require in the course of their work as the 2021 elections draw near.

Mr Amooti Katebalirwe, the acting chairperson, Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) reiterated the role played by HRDs in elections including human rights education, election monitoring, observing and reporting. He informed the participants that in 2012, the Commission established a human rights defenders’ desk under the doctorate of monitoring and inspection, to address challenges faced by HRDs in their work including threats and arrests. He encouraged the HRDs to always report their complaints to the Commission through the various regional offices across the country.

Ms Martha Nanjobe, a Deputy Programme and Learning Manager at the DGF, noted that the theme of the forum resonated well with the current situation in Uganda in the run-up to the upcoming elections in 2021. She informed participants that the DGF is in the process of identifying strategies for partners’ interventions in the electoral cycle, especially on matters of election violence which inevitably affect the HRDs.

Among others, participants made a rallying call for the protection of girls’ and women’s rights during the electoral season as well as the rights of persons with disabilities. Participants also called for more deliberate dialogues with the EC on promotion and protection of rights of HRDs during elections.

The DGF supports HRCU to implement a project titled: “Strengthening support and protection of the rights of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda