Former Principal Judge and chairman Judicial Service Commission, Rtd. Justice James Ogoola has called on human rights activists to play a central role in shaping the final draft of the Marriage and Divorce Bill, 2012.
His argument for this is that many of the salient contentious issues are directly connected to fundamental rights and freedoms of Ugandans.
Ogoola, who acknowledged the “perilous journey” travelled by many human rights defenders in form of occasional state hostility to their work, also called for a spirit of “volunteerism” to reduce their operational bills and the attendant dependency on donor funding.
Among the issues that are enshrined in the bill of rights under the 1995 Uganda constitution that the bill tackles include property sharing and how, when, where and whom to marry.
“So much has been said about this bill in which the entire society has a stake. This bill calls for exhaustive scrutiny and I feel human rights defenders are the most qualified people to shape this debate,” Ogoola.
He was speaking as the chief guest at a maiden Human Rights Defenders annual forum at Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel in Entebbe on Wednesday.
Ogoola also noted that other issues like polygamy and bride price that the bill seeks to address affect the cultural heritage of Ugandans, which is an inalienable right.
The law that is under discussion and that seeks to harmonize the different laws governing the institution of marriage has proved contentious, as religious leaders, politicians, women and civil rights activists spar over some thorny issues laced in the bill.
Among the knotty issues include recognition of cohabitation and property sharing by couples in the event of divorce.
Last week, the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, sent the House on a short recess to allow MPs to carry out consultations over a bill that has on many occasions been shelved as consensus over contentious clauses continues to elude key stakeholders.
President Yoweri Museveni has called for a sober scrutiny of the bill, although he promised to throw his weight behind the piece of legislation during a meeting with female legislators last week.
The occasion, which drew a host of human rights organizations and activists, was graced by former chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission and currently UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of human rights defenders around the globe, Margaret Ssekagya.
Responding to queries about donor dependency by human rights organizations, Ssekagya decried the reluctance by multinational organizations with branches in Uganda to fund activities of human rights defenders.
Ogola launched the Human Rights Defenders in Uganda report 2012, in which a synopsis of the challenges and achievements of the year under review are highlighted.
The one-and-half day workshop is aimed at enabling human rights defenders get a better grasp of their work, challenges, risks and opportunities within their current environment.