Ladies and Gentlemen
Uganda joins other delegations who have congratulated you upon your election as President of the Working Group of the UN Human Rights Council. I wish to assure of my delegation’s full support to your presidency and to the successful outcome of the deliberations of the Working Group.
Two years ago, I was privileged to be elected President of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly. In that capacity, I was able to interact first hand with many UN Bodies and affiliated organizations including the UN Human Rights Council. From this interaction, it became clear to me that no single country has a perfect human rights record. These imperfections range from economic, social, and political rights. Race, gender, religion and politics have been at the centre of human rights abuses across the globe. The Universal Periodic Review mechanism is unique in the sense that it is state-driven and offers opportunity for the country under review to declare actions it has taken to improve its human rights situation; share experiences and lessons with other states; and to identify challenges that require to be addressed so that her people can enjoy their full human rights.
For Uganda we support the peer review process out of the commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights drawing from our bad experience and lessons from our past history of dictatorship. We, therefore, do so not because of any undue pressure or wishes from outside, but because we firmly believe that it is important for our country and people. I am, therefore, here today to report on actions Uganda has taken and progress achieved and will continue to make in the enforcement of observance of human rights in our country.
While the peer review process is a welcome development, we should also continue to review ways and means to make it more participatory, transparent, consultative and accountable including in the aspects of reporting. For instance, we note that under the current procedure, the Working Group receives and considers simultaneously three reports submitted separately by the country under review, the UN High Commissioner and the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). However, while the latter two reports also address issues concerning the country under review, there is no clear mechanism or procedure of consultation with the country reported on before their submission to the Working Group. It is essential that such a mechanism is put in place so that many of the issues that otherwise would be submitted to the Working Group are addressed at the national level. This enhances the credibility and ownership of reports submitted to the Working Group.
Regarding Uganda’s second periodic review, Government involved various stakeholders in this process; including Cabinet, Parliament and civil society organisations. The process was participatory and consultative. It culminated into the national report which is before the Working Group. The involvement of Cabinet and Parliament is mandatory under our laws. This is what contributed to the slight delay in the submission of our national report.
Our national report has addressed issues related to status of implementation of voluntary pledges and agreed recommendations made under the first peer review; and provides a synopsis of key developments in Uganda in the area of human rights since 2011.
On voluntary pledges made, Uganda has finalised a draft National Action Plan (NAP) which is soon to be submitted to Cabinet for approval. The NAP, once approved, will provide abroad policy framework for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country and for the implementation of our commitments under various regional and international human rights instruments. Reports prepared by Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) are annually submitted to Parliament for review and recommendations made thereof, implemented by Government and other relevant stakeholders. Institutionally, the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights is playing an oversight role while the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Human Rights is providing appropriate policy guidance. There is also in place a Technical Committee to provide technical support to Cabinet; as well as human rights focal points in each Government Ministry/Department/Agency to coordinate implementation.
Various agreed recommendations from the first peer review, have been, or are being implemented. The Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act enacted in 2012 domesticated the UN Convention Against Torture. Consultations are ongoing with respect to the policy and institutional issues that require to be addressed in order for the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture to be ratified.
Under the Justice, Law and Order Sector, the Uganda Police Force, Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces and the Uganda Prisons Service each has established a Directorate of Human Rights to handle human rights issues, including complaints from the public against any of their respective serving officers. These Directorates are also responsible for building in-house human rights capacity; and ensuring strict adherence to Uganda’s regional and international human rights obligations and standards.
The Judiciary has introduced plea-bargaining and improved access to legal aid services as components of the criminal justice system. A mandatory alternative dispute resolution system is being used to expedite the resolution of civil disputes. Judicial staff have also been increased to reduce case backlog; performance targets set for them; and new juridical areas created throughout the country. The Constitution (Sentencing Guidelines for Courts of Judicature (Practice)) Directions, 2013 have been adopted to be applied by Court in sentencing.
The independence of the key governance institutions has also been strengthened. For instance, under Article 23(6)(a) of the Constitution Courts are empowered to release, on bail, persons arrested for committing criminal offences. The Uganda Human Rights Commission, under Article 54 of the Constitution, can independently investigate any human rights violations and where confirmed recommend that the Director of Public Prosecution takes appropriate action. The President, under Article 60(1) of the Constitution, is empowered to nominate Commissioners of the Electoral Commission for approval by Parliament. During vetting of nominees by Parliament, any member of the public, political party, or civil society can freely provide information against any nominee.
Our Constitution guarantees rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression. Government has continued to advocate for a strong, vibrant and responsible free press; for freedom of speech; and broad participation. Our people are continuously being sensitized to understand and appreciate that in enjoying their rights, every person is under obligation to act in accordance with the law.
The NGO and CSO organisations have continued to play an increasingly greater role in our society. It is, therefore, crucial that their operations are transparent and streamlined; and that they exhibit a high degree of accountability including to the people who are the beneficiaries. The NGOs Act 2015 was enacted to address these concerns; and to ensure that these organisations at all times, operate in full accordance with their respective mandates. It is also important to stress that a majority of the provisions of this Act (about 80%) reflect views submitted by NGOs. Further, the Act also provides for representation of NGOs at various levels of decision-making e.g. at the National NGOs Board (two out of seven members); the District NGOs Working Committees and local community level. It has adequate mechanisms for redress as necessary.
On the human rights situation since the first peer review, Uganda adopted the Second National Development Plan (2015/16 – 2019/20); as a development framework for the next five years. The Plan was prepared guided by the principle of rights based approach to development. It is, therefore, a major policy tool integrating human rights and development issues. In this regard, any external development support to our country must be aligned to our National Development Plan.
Uganda held Presidential, General Parliamentary and Local Government Council Elections in February 2016. Despite some few administrative challenges experienced at the start, but expeditiously addressed immediately later, overall those elections were held in free and fair atmosphere; and their outcome reflected the free will of the majority of our people. Government noted a petition filed at the Supreme Court of Uganda regarding those elections. Government is committed to ensuring that the relevant recommendations made by the Supreme Court, together with other proposals to be made by our people on constitutional reforms, will be handled by a constitutional review commission, that will be established. It is important to underscore that it will be up to our people to decide what reforms they want to have. This is in line with our Constitution that explicitly provides for their sovereignty.
Government also noted recommendations made by various election observers on some aspects of the elections. Government reiterates her commitment to implement those recommendations which, in our opinion, can contribute to the advancement of democracy in Uganda.
I thank you for attention.