The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) last week released its 2005 report on the state of human rights in the country. Arthur Baguma summarises the report
â€œWe have been visiting them but only after notifying them 48 hours before. We want to visit these places without first informing the army of our impending visit,â€ an official at the Commission says.
Although the report says the Commission welcomes the cooperation extended by the UPDF, the prerequisite of giving notice affects the value and intention of inspections, which are meant to be unexpected and impromptu.
â€œThe Commission continues to appeal to the army leadership to remove the notice requirement in order to facilitate free and unimpeded access by the Commission for the purpose of inspecting the conditions of detention,â€ the report states in part.
However, Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) spokesperson Maj. Felix Kulayigye says the army and the commission agreed in principle to work together and there should be no cause for alarm. Kulayigye says the army has a human rights desk, which has been elevated to a Directorate headed by a lawyer.
â€œThat shows you how serious we regard human rights in the UPDF. The Chief of Operations and Training has just closed a training course of trainers in international matters on law and the law of armed conflict and these are going to train others on matters of human rights,â€ he said.
UHRC chairperson, Margaret Sekajja, says the state of human rights in the country has improved. â€œGenerally in some areas it has improved. In the past, the state of human rights in conflict areas was very bad, but with the introduction of a new IDPs policy and the policy to decongest IDP camps, human rights abuses have considerably gone down. However on torture we still get complaints from the local government prisons and the military,â€ Sekagya said.
The report pins local government prisons over torture of detainees. It says torture also occurred, to a limited extent, in central government prisons.
The Commission established that many cases of torture were not perpetrated by Officers-in-Charge, but mostly by warders and â€˜Prefectsâ€™. However, during the reporting period, the Commission noted a significant decline of torture by prison officials and prefects in most central government prisons.
Johnson Byabashaija, the Commissioner of Prisons, says when the new law on prisons will check torture in local government prisons when it comes into effect.
â€œThey (local government prisons) will soon be under the central prisons management. This is what we are trying to work on. In central prisons, we almost have no torture. We have eliminated it. When the local prisons come under us, torture will be history,â€ Byabashaija said.
The report criticises government over dragging its feet to pay compensation awarded by the Commission to complainants.
Governmentâ€™s argument is that compensations delay because they are not budgeted for initially and even if they are budgeted for, budget ceilings under the Ministry of Finance limit how much money should be allocated to the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
The Commission has recommended setting up a Victims Compensation Fund to relieve the Attorney Generalâ€™s chambers of the burden of relying on the budgetary allocations from the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.
By 2004, the Attorney General (AG) had paid sh93.2m out of the sh784m as compensation awards.
In 2005 the Commissionâ€™s awards to complainants hit sh306m. Sh275m (89%) of the awards is supposed to be paid by the AG.
According to the Justice, Law and Order Sector, the government already has an accumulated bill of sh32.8b in arrears in compensation from court awards including those of UHRC.
The issue of delayed compensation is thorny. â€œWe have proposed that government decentralises the liability so that individuals who violate human rights are liable to pay, instead of the AG shouldering all the burden, but this may require amending the law,â€ Nathan Byamukama, the Director in charge of Monitoring and Treaties said.
Complaints received in 2005
The Commission received and registered 1,208 complaints of alleged human rights violations in 2005 and registered 748 lodgments. The right to maintenance of children or child neglect by parents featured highest among complaints registered, with 286 complaints (23.6%)
Torture was the second highest violation registered, with 256 complaints (21.19%). This was followed by violation of the right to personal liberty, with 176 complaints (14.5%).
Thirteen percent (158 people) complained of violation of their right to property. Violation of the right to education had 73 complaints (6%). Violation of the right to remuneration for work had 5.5%, while violation of the right to a speedy and fair hearing registered 4.8%. Deprivation of the right to life stood at 3.9%.
Other complaints were against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment (3.6%), violation of the right to economic/work manâ€™s compensation (2.2%), domestic violence, discrimination, violation of the right to healthy working environment, access to children, violation of freedom of expression, violation of the right to health, privacy and servitude all amounted to 3.1% of the complaints received in 2005.
Human rights improve in Uganda