Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Uganda's Human Rights Record is Heavily Criticised by New UN Report

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This week UN Member States, through a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) , directed heavy criticism at Yoweri Museveni and his government's human rights record.

The UPR is a new human rights mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council aiming at improving human rights in each of the 193 UN Member States.  The process is based on the principle of equal treatment for all countries. According to the UNHRC, UPR 'provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries, and to fulfil their human rights obligations.'

Following extensive consultation with stakeholders and NGOs, the review into Uganda was published on Tuesday October 11 in Geneva. It has demanded the investigation of allegations that excessive force was used against protesters during the opposition's recent 'walk-to-work' demonstrations. Amongst other recommendations, it urged the judiciary to help hold state agents accused of excessive use of force accountable for their actions.

The report also asked the government to decriminalise homosexuality and legislate against torture.

Morover, two recent proposed changes to legislation are strongly opposed by the UN. Firstly, the UPR has called on the government to drop a plan to allow detention without charge for a period of six months. Moreover, it is demanded that clauses in the draft 'Press and Journalists Bill’ that curtail media freedom are removed.

Uganda will have four years to implement the recommendations before it is reviewed again.

Birgit Gerstenberg, the representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Uganda, believes that the review 'provides the opportunity to bring various actors together to draw out a national plan of action for human rights for the country. One that will ensure that the development that Uganda is working hard towards observes human dignity and rights as its central focus.'

This is all very well intentioned, but, in the context of the goverment's recent bullish attitude to oppositon and criticism, it seems doubtful that the review will have any immediate effect on legislation or policy.

What it will do is raise public awareness of the manner in which basic rights are routinely abused under Museveni's government.