MPs Scrutinise Human Rights Bill

3143 Views Kampala, Uganda

In short
Dr. Rebecca Amollo, the FHRI Research and Advocacy Officer told legislators that it would be easier for complainants to receive justice in the magistrates courts due to the case backlog in High Court.

The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee has started scrutinising the Human Rights (Enforcement) bill, 2015. The bill was tabled by Mitooma Woman MP, Jovah Kamateeka. 
It seeks to enforce Article 50 (4) of the constitution, which compels parliament to enact laws for the enforcement of rights and freedoms provided for in Chapter four of the Constitution. These include the right to life, respect for human dignity and protection from inhuman treatment, right to own property, right to privacy, right to education and others.

Parliament hasn't enacted any laws under Article 50 (4), which provide for the enforcement of human rights by all persons, institutions and organs of government since the 1995 constitution was promulgated. 

The Human Rights (Enforcement) bill, 2015 limits the enforcement of human rights by the High Court and empowers any person or organization to initiate a human rights and enforcement action before the same court. 
It however restricts he High Court's powers not to issue redress where the same is available under any other law such as the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) Act. On procedures, Clauses 5 to 6 provide that for a matter to be taken to court, it should be by an Ordinary Complaint and the matter should be heard in open court by a single judge.  

The bill also provides for reference from a subordinate court or tribunal, if in the course of any proceedings any question of violation of a fundamental right and freedom guaranteed under Chapter four of the Constitution arises. In this case, proceedings in the subordinate court are stayed until the High Court determines the human rights question, and the decision of the high court is binding on the subordinate one. 

Clause 7 of the bill empowers High Court to make all orders it considers necessary and appropriate for the enjoyment of rights and freedoms including compensation when a right has been violated, unlawfully denied or there is need for its enforcement.

The bill also provides for appeals from the High Court to the Court of Appeal.  Kamateeka, who also doubles as the chairperson of the Human Rights Committee appeared before the Legal committee today to defend her bill.  She told the committee that once approved the bill will give people an opportunity to choose to file human rights violation cases before the Uganda Human Rights Commission or courts of law.

However, some committee members led by Robinah Rwakoojo, the Legal Committee Vice Chairperson wondered whether the bill will not limit powers of Uganda Human Rights Commission. Kamateeka clarified that the Human Rights bill does not in any way limit the powers of Uganda Human Rights Commission. 

//Cue in: "the jurisdiction...
Cue out:...powers."//
Kamateeka also said that due to the absence of enforcement procedures, applicants are currently at the mercy of the judges.

//Cue in: "the judges...
Cue out:...your case."//

Meanwhile, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) says that Clause 4 of the bill should be amended to grant original jurisdiction of human rights cases to the Chief Magistrates Court.

Dr. Rebecca Amollo, the FHRI Research and Advocacy Officer told legislators that it would be easier for complainants to receive justice in the magistrates' courts due to the case backlog in High Court.

//Cue in: "and this...
Cue out:...2016."//
Different reports have in the past pinned government agencies for various human rights violations, including arbitrary killings, torture and cruel treatment, poor conditions in detention centres and harassment of opposition politicians.

In 2016, a human rights report by the US State Department's Bureau of Democracy highlighted lack of respect for the integrity of the person (unlawful killings, torture, and abuse of detainees), restrictions on civil liberties (freedoms of assembly, expression), and violence and discrimination against marginalised groups, such as women and children as the most serious human rights problems in Uganda. 


About the author

Olive Nakatudde
Olive Nakatudde is a URN journalist based in Kampala. Nakatudde has been a URN staff member since 2013.

Nakatudde started out in journalism in 2009 with Dembe FM radio in Kampala. In 2012, Nakatudde joined Voice of Africa as a political reporter. She has been a photographer since her journalism school days at Makerere University.

Nakatudde is interested in good governance and public policy, which she reports on intensively from the Uganda Parliament. She is a keen follower of cultural affairs in Buganda Kingdom and covers the kingdom's Lukiiko (parliament). Nakatudde also reports on education and health.