I am excited to see that the Human Rights Defenders’ Protection Bill, 2020 is taking great shape and it is in this very vein that I flow to appreciate the collaborating organizations including Defenders’ Protection Initiative, DefendDefenders, Human Rights Centre Uganda, National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda, Chapter Four Uganda, Human Rights Network for Journalists, among others for the continued advocacy around seeing that this Bill moves thus far.
Further appreciation goes to the mover of the Bill, Hon. Lyandro Komakech the member of Parliament for Gulu Municipality, the seconders Hon. Silas Aogon, Hon. David Abala and Hon.
Lucy Akello and the drafter assigned to the Bill for the courage they have shown in moving this Bill to the floor of Parliament and the tireless efforts to advance the cause for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Uganda. These efforts in one way or another may not have been possible without the financial support of development partners and well wishers.
Article 1 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, 1998 provides that a human rights defender is anyone who individually or in association with others promotes or strives for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international level. The word “everyone” should be construed to mean that natural or legal persons such teachers, lawyers, medical practitioners, journalists, artistes, students, organizations and many more who perform any act or undertake actions aimed at promoting and protecting rights and freedoms of anyone.
The advocacy journey to have a specific law for the protection of human rights defenders in Uganda started as far back as 2013 with the need to domesticate the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. A research was done by Defenders’ Protection Initiative which revealed that human rights defenders continued to face a number of challenges in the course of their work such as intimidation and stigmatization by both state and non-state actors, unlawful arrests and detention, physical attacks and destruction of their tools of trade, threats to them and their close family members, restrictions to their personal liberty, surveillance of their work, among others. Despite the existence of the Constitution, the Human Rights Enforcement) Act, 2019 and other laws that talk about human rights, none of these has offered redress to human rights defenders whose rights have been abused or violated.
In 2016, a model law was adopted in Geneva by a group of human rights experts including Ms. Margaret Sekaggya and Mr. Hassan Sheikh Shire. Among the recommendations made were that countries should draft and put in place similar laws informed by existing local or domestic contexts in order to strengthen the protection of human rights defenders.
It is a held opinion that if this Bill is passed into law, human rights defenders will have the option of seeking redress within its provisions from the relevant authorities and institutions.
What shall remain to be seen is whether once passed, the law will not be another addition to the many existing ones but will indeed help human rights defenders have, enjoy and realize protection in their work.
This will encourage them to continue speaking against injustices in society and to call for action against perpetrators of abuses and violations of rights. Ultimately, we shall have a society where everyone is a neighbor’s keeper with confidence that should anyone’s rights be at stake for seeking to promote and protect the rights of another, they will have a legal recourse against their abuser or violator.
ROBERT MUGISA | firstname.lastname@example.org
The writer is a lawyer and passionate human rights advocate
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