Status: civil society and public discussion
In Uganda, discussions on the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs or defenders) are currently ongoing. Although recent developments are worrying and no legislation protecting defenders has been implemented yet, a recent draft bill creates hope for improvement. It has been developed by different civil society organizations, was introduced to Parliament in 2020 and has been under discussion ever since.
Since 2014, civil society actors have been working on the development of a draft bill for the protection of defenders in Uganda. In this process, different experts, key stakeholders and lawyers were involved in providing advice and amendments. The introduction of the National Model Law by ISHR in 2016 played an important role in this process, and formed an important basis for the document that was developed and finally made public in 2020. In July 2020, Hon. Lyandro Komakech, member of parliament from the Gulu Municipality, filed a motion seeking to leave parliament to introduce “The Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill 2020”, which was accepted. However, at the installment of the new parliament in 2021, all pending bills were sent back to committees for review and reintroduction to the house. The CSOs have participated in these discussions and consultations with parliament. The Bill is yet to be presented to parliament for the first reading.
An earlier Human Rights Enforcement Act was introduced in 2019, and was supposed to include the protection of defenders, as well as to release persons unreasonably detained (Article 15 of the said Bill). However, as MP Lyandro Komakech argued during his motion seeking to leave parliament, the act has been insufficiently implemented, creating the need for a separate legislation protection defenders.
Uganda ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Right, which means that it falls under the jurisdiction of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa. The last report on Uganda, however, was in 1995. Since then, little has been pronounced on the situation of human rights defenders in Uganda by the Special Rapporteur. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders has also not made any country visit to Uganda, but has included recent cases of intimidation and arbitrary detention of environmental human rights defenders in Uganda within its 2021 report on death threats and killings of defenders worldwide.
Uganda has recently been under examination by the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The most recent report, published in 2022, maps several beneficial developments since 2016. This includes the the reviewing of bills and the Constitution, the creation of a Human Right Defenders desk by UHRC. Nevertheless, concerns are raised around the NGO Act introduced in 2016, the violent repression of protesters by the national police and strong restrictions imposed upon defenders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Uganda is classified as “repressed” by Civicus Monitor 2022, which means that “civic space is significantly constrained”. Repression of defenders was exacerbated in the period building up to the elections in 2021 and included arbitrary arrests, kidnapping, forced disappearances (NCHRDU, 2021) and social media blocks (Repucci & Slipowitz, 2022). Due to these and many other restrictions imposed on defenders by the Uganda government, the Freedom House Index 2022 classifies Uganda as “not free”.
References and documents
National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders Uganda (NCHRDU) (2021). Annual Report 2021. https://hrdcoalition.ug/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Annual-Report-2021.pdf
Republic of Uganda (2019). THE HUMAN RTGHTS (ENFORCEMENT) ACT, 2019. https://chapterfouruganda.org/sites/default/files/downloads/Human-Rights-%28Enforcement%29-Act-2019.pdf
Repucci, S. & Slipowitz, A. (2022). Freedom In The World 2022. Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/2022-02/FIW_2022_PDF_Booklet_Digital_Final_Web.pdf
UN General Assembly (UNGA) (2022). National report submitted in accordance with paragraph 5 of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 16/21. UNGA, https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/upr/ug-index
UN General Assembly (UNGA) (2020). Final warning: death threats and killings of human rights defenders. https://reliefweb.int/report/world/final-warning-death-threats-and-killings-human-rights-defenders-report-special
Updated on 20/06/22