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Magistrates courts to hear human rights violation cases

By Moses Mulondo

Added 16th March 2017 02:50 PM

The Human Rights (Enforcement) Bill, seeks to operationalize article 50 (4) of the Constitution by providing for the procedure of enforcing human rights enshrined in the Supreme law.

Magistrates courts to hear human rights violation cases

The Human Rights (Enforcement) Bill, seeks to operationalize article 50 (4) of the Constitution by providing for the procedure of enforcing human rights enshrined in the Supreme law.

Human rights committee chairperson, Jova Kamateka. Photo/File

The Parliament committee on Human Rights has drafted a Bill which seeks to enable courts to adjudicate on human rights violation cases.

The Human Rights (Enforcement) Bill, seeks to operationalize article 50 (4) of the Constitution by providing for the procedure of enforcing human rights enshrined in the Supreme law.

The article requires Parliament to enact laws for the enforcement of the rights and freedoms guaranteed under chapter four of the Constitution.

Since 1995 when the Constitution came into force, government has never presented any law to Parliament under article 50 (4).

In order to fill the gap created by the absence of such a law made by Parliament for enforcement of human rights, the Judicature rules committee established under section 40 of the Judicature Act issued enforcement procedures in 2008 but they were successfully challenged in the Bukenya Church Ambrose Versus Attorney General Constitutional petition of 2010.

In the petition, the Constitutional court held that it was not the role of any other body other than Parliament to make laws except under authority delegated by parliament.

Defending the Bill before the Parliament legal committee, the human rights committee chairperson Jova Kamateka said the law will accord Ugandans the opportunity to challenge violation of their rights in courts of law.

"Without a law providing for the procedure for enforcement of human rights, it is only the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) that has been handling human rights cases. The purpose of this Bill is to provide the procedure necessary for the courts to also handle cases. As you know, UHRC has many limitations and has no presence in many parts of the country. Many Ugandans don't even about the existence of UHRC," Kamateka explained.

Kamateka said the law will greatly help Ugandans to fight violation of their rights.

"Individual Ugandans have been violating the rights of fellow Ugandans. We have been engaging police on the violation of the rights of Ugandans and they also admit that some of their members have been violating the rights of Ugandans," she argued.

Kamateka said once the Bill is passed, it will be very easy for Ugandans whose rights are violated by government agencies like police and the army and any other entities or individuals to seek redress in the courts of law.

Various reports by Uganda Human Rights Commission have ranked Uganda Police and UPDF as the leading entities in violating the fundamental rights and freedoms of Ugandans.

Legal committee members who included Robinah Rwakoojo and Veronica Bichetero proposed that the Bill needs to be amended to provide for the enforcement of all human rights enshrined in the constitution beyond rights and freedoms under article 54.

"From what my colleagues have suggested and what I said, the Bill should be able to provide for enforcement of all human rights and freedoms and therefore should not be limited to article 54," Bichetero a former UHRC commissioner elaborated.

Bukhooli County North MP Charles Mugooya, who is a former magistrate, proposed that beyond the powers/jurisdiction given to the High Court, the Bill needs to be amended to allow magistrates courts to have powers to handle human rights violation cases.

The Foundation For Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), which was represented by Dr. Rebecca Amollo and Aliana Dhunani, said passing the Bill will be major milestone in enforcing human rights and freedoms.

FHRI also prosed to widen the jurisdiction to Magistrates Courts to enable Ugandans in corners of the country to easily file cases of human rights violations, arguing that the High Court is already struggling with thousands of backlog of cases.

"Presently, human rights related cases are primarily heard by Uganda Human Rights Commission. The law is good because it is bringing in the realm of the court system in enforcing human rights. It will go a long way in determining the procedure for victims of human rights violations to seek redress in an adequate and timely manner," Dr. Amollo argued.

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