Human rights report calls for action to prevent electoral related violations

The Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) launched the human rights report, titled ‘Human Rights and Elections in Uganda (2016): A Call for Action’ on 27th June 2016 at the Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala. The report presents the findings of an eight-month inquiry into the human rights situation during the 2016 election period. It focuses on the legal framework in place for protecting human rights in the context of an election, documents human rights violations throughout the election period, and engages in a comparative analysis with past elections in 2006 and 2011.

The event attracted 170 participants among them representatives from government, civil society, academia, political party members, the Uganda Police Force (UPF), the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Force (UPDF), Uganda Law Reform Commission (ULRC), Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), the Judiciary, and the media, among others.

Dr. Livingstone Sewanyana, FHRI’s Executive Director stressed the responsibility civil society in maintaining the democracy discourse on the public agenda. Ms. Sheila Muwanga, Deputy Director of Programs at FHRI who highlighted the report’s ambitions and some of its key findings regarding human rights and access to justice during the election, as well as the various recommendations it makes to relevant sectors and stakeholders.

Mads Mayerhofer, Chair of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) Steering Committee expressed concern about the lack of a level playing field and the impact this has on effective public participation in governance. He commended the report for helping to clear the way for genuine dialogue and future improvement.

The official launch of the report was then conducted by Dr. Uchenna Emelonye, Country Representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Dr. Emelonye noted that the report is a diagnosis and should be the framework/guide for what can be improved in the context of human rights in elections. Following the launch, the event transitioned into a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Sewanyana and graced by four panellists including: Erasmus Twaruhukwa, Director for the UPF- Directorate of Human Rights and Legal Services; Crispy Kaheru, Coordinator for the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU); Patricia Nduru, Director of Human Rights Monitoring and Inspection at the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC); and Sylvia Namubiru, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Service Providers’ Network (LASPNET).

The first panellist UPF’s Erasmus Twaruhukwa considered the report reasonable and entirely agreed with the recommendations made in the report that concern the UPF. From his view, these recommendations were already being implemented by the UPF. To the question whether the UPF is human rights friendly, Erasmus responded that the UPF as an institution has put in place measures for human rights compliance, however this does not mean they are always effective or that there will not be any trace of human rights violations.

CCEDU’s Crispy Kaheru discussed whether Ugandans exercised their right to vote on February 18. In his opinion, Ugandans went to the polls with mixed feelings of hope, anxiety, apprehension but also optimism. He emphasised the fundamental need for electoral reforms and stressed the need to use the report as a tool for dialogue and reform.

UHRC’s Patricia Nduru was tasked to clarify whether human rights in Uganda are mere abstract notions or entitlements. Patricia noted that in the statute books, human rights are entitlements, however, there are many challenges when it comes to the implementation of these rights entrenched in the law.

LASPNET’s Sylvia Namubiru was asked what the legal aid service providers had done about the serious human rights violations that occurred during the elections. She noted that the legal aid service providers were able to support those who had been arrested during the elections. However, they faced many challenges in accessing justice, singling out the complaints mechanism at the Electoral Commission and the presidential petition process at the Supreme Court.

Plenary discussions attracted thoughtful responses and heated debates from the public in attendance. Dr. Tanga Odoi, NRM Electoral Commission Chairperson noted that it is every one’s responsibility to claim human rights and democracy; this should not be left to the state. This was followed by passionate comments from the Hon. Miria Matembe and the Lord Mayor of Kampala, Erias Lukwago, calling for renewed national action to address human rights concerns in the country. Key election related human rights violations that were raised during the plenary included torture, accessibility for persons with disabilities and disproportionate police violence.