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Sunday,October 21,2018 22:08 PM

Call on rights defenders protection Bill

By Andrew Ssenyonga

Added 10th November 2016 09:23 AM

This comes after a group of human rights defenders come under attack.

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From left, LASPNET executive director LASPNET Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa, treasurer Anthony Mutimba and board member Paul Kavuma addressing reporters at their offices in Kampala. (Credit: Godiver Asege)

This comes after a group of human rights defenders come under attack.

KAMPALA - Providers of legal aid services have asked Parliament to pass the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill into law to protect defenders and to investigate and ensure accountability for threats and attacks against them.

Legal Aid Service Provider's Network (LASPNET) executive director, Sylvia Mukasa, said the law would protect and empower defenders to know and claim their rights.

“The law focuses on holistic security of defenders, including physical security, digital security, and psychosocial wellbeing,” she said.

“It does not only emphasize the rights and security of individual defenders alone, but also includes groups, organisations, communities, and family members who share their risks.”

This comes after a group of human rights defenders under FIDA Uganda were allegedly attacked by government and trade union officials in the course of their work.

FIDA – an NGO – and other groups condemned the incident in which over 80 workers’ rights were allegedly violated by a flower farm called Royal Van Zanten. The workers were purportedly poisoned by chemicals.

Mukasa, in a statement, said trade minister Amelia Kyambadde recently held a meeting describing what happened at the farm as an isolated incident.

“She subsequently made personal attacks on individual human rights defenders, calling their interventions a negative campaign by self-seeking individuals to put pressure on the flower farms to get out of business,” she said.

Mukasa also alleged that the National Organisation of Trade Union (NOTU) secretary general Peter Werikhe abused and threatened the FIDA boss.

“The law would protect human rights defenders from acts of intimidation, threat and danger,” she said.

Mercy Munduru, FIDA senior advocacy officer, said the law would combat impunity for threats and violations aimed at human rights defenders by carrying out inquiries and ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted or dealt with under the law.

Last month a number of workers at Royal Van Zanten flower farm in Mpigi district were admitted over various health complications following alleged exposure to poisonous chemicals at their place of work.

Workers’ conditions

It was reported that 82 workers at the farm were allegedly affected after being forced to enter a greenhouse within a few minutes of spraying with chemicals which caused them headaches, dizziness, skin and eye irritation difficulty in breathing, abdominal pain and vomiting.

Many reportedly collapsed and were rushed to the farm clinic. When the symptoms persisted they were referred to a clinic outside the farm.

The workers contacted the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA-U) and Uganda Horticulture Industrial Service Providers and Allied Workers Union (UHISPAWU).

The two organisations transferred 46 women workers to a private hospital for tests and treatment and later to Kadic Hospital.

Call to relevant stakeholders

Lydia Bwiite, program officer legal, Platform for Labour Action said the predicament of the workers and others working in similar circumstances, especially low skilled workers, is not isolated.

She appealed to government as a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to enforce the several laws under this convention, national laws and protect the human rights of workers.

“Government should exercise its mandate conferred upon it by the constitution and the people to safeguard, protect and guarantee the rights of Ugandans as enshrined in the constitution.”

Irene Okanga, FIDA project coordinator, called upon Royal Van Zanten to put in place good working conditions, use the right chemicals and ensure that workers are protected from risks.

“Section 13 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 2006 obligates employers to provide a safe working environment free from any hazardous substances,” she said.

She advised trade minister Kyambadde to exercise her ministerial position without undue bias and with impartiality.

“Government officials should undertake their rightful mandate to protect the workers and not to betray their trust.”

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