The Uganda Human Rights Commission promotes human rights in the breach
I was awestruck to watch on Television on 26th October that the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) won a continental award as the leading National Human Rights Institution (NHRI). I would like to state from the outset that, if indeed UHRC is a leading NHRI in Africa; all NHRIs are promoting human rights in the breach for that is what the UHRC does best.
In the wake of the heartless increment of fees in public universities in 2009, I wrote to the president opposing the increment. I ended up in jail on trumped up charges of assault and threatening violence. I also wrote a petition to parliament which I copied to the Uganda Human Rights Commission. Later, at the launch of the 12th Uganda Human Rights Commission report at Imperial Royale Hotel, I asked the UHRC Chairperson Mr. Med Kaggwa whether the heartless increment was not a violation of article 30 of the constitution and other human rights instruments that provide for the right to education. Mr. Kaggwa brashly stated that the increment of fees up to 126% was alright. He further stated that he was on the university council of Kyambogo University and that they had found it appropriate to have such an increment. Prompted by Kaggwa’s response, Kaggwa’s close friend, human rights activist JK Zirabamuzale walked out of the function in protest.
Upon the increment of tuition fees, many students failed to enroll and up to this day very many continue to drop out. Remember Uganda’s Universities and other Tertiary Institutions Act states that a public university is maintained out of state funds. That notwithstanding, the well-connected students get statehouse scholarships whose access is arbitrary. The statehouse scholarships are only given to sons and daughters of top NRM members and leaders, children of those that went to the bush between 1981 to 1986 and NRM mobilisers. Taxpayers’ money used to build capacity for the ruling party! Such a practice, the UHRC cannot decry.
It is a principle of natural justice that justice delayed is justice denied. However, the UHRC takes up to ten years to conclude complaints before it. Yet the awards by the UHRC are rarely paid by the government. Ultimately, it is a travesty of justice.
The Commission fights human rights defenders who are critical of the government’s poor human rights record.
I would like to ask the following questions: how often does the Commission visit police cells? How come we have people who spend months in the police cells? How often does the commission visit prison farms? How come the commission has never condemned the besieging of the Constitutional Square by the police and the military since 2011? How come the Commission has never championed the translation of the Ugandan Constitution into local languages as provided for under article 4? How can UHRC be the leading NHRI when more than 90% don’t know their rights? The registration of NGOs is frustrated by among others RDCs and ISO operatives who sit on the NGO Board and the UHRC keeps mum.
In 2009 amid the protests occasioned by the blockage of Kabaka Mutebi’s visit to his subjects in Kayunga, the government banned open air radio programmes a.k.a Bimezza. These are the programmes through which the ordinary Ugandan would express his/her views and vent their sentiments hence making contribution to governance. The commission has never been forthright and upfront in condemning such an error.
I know well the UHRC
When I am writing about the Uganda Human Rights Commission, I am writing about the organization that I know inside out. When it comes to prisoners’ rights, very many prisoners are maimed and some killed from the prison farms. In Kitalya prison farm which is just a stone throw away from the UHRC Head Quarters in Kampala, prisoners are subjected to the worst forms of torture. If a prisoner digs and gets tired and cannot dig anymore, they dig a pit and bury his entire body vertically apart from the head. I have been a prisoner in Murchison Bay Hospital which is the national referral hospital. Right now if one visited Ward One of Murchison Bay Hospital, many patients are casualties as a result of maiming by the prisons staff.
Many if not all of the people tried by the military courts have their rights flagrantly and blatantly violated. What does the UHRC do? The Commission just looks on. The statement of Martin Luther King Jr that at last we shall not remember the oppression of our enemies but the silence of our friends always rings in mind.
Talk about civil and political rights. It is common practice in Uganda for the police to proscribe the activities of opposition political parties. Even non-state actors such as civil society organizations have their activities curtailed. The Inspector General of Police has blood in his hands. But the UHRC as usual ranks the police as the leading human rights violator but never recommends that Gen Kale Kayihura be brought to book. Impunity is the order of the day in Uganda. I have stated in the Ugandan media that the Police Force is the provocation force and that the Inspector General of Police is now the Inspector General of Provocation. There’s no single moment when Ugandans have ever woken up with a view to riot. But each time we have demonstrations morph into riots it is as a result of police provocation. What annoys so much is that the guns that the Ugandan Police use to kill civilians are bought using taxpayers’ money.
When it comes to socio-economic rights, one can rightly assert that they are completely deficient. The national referral Hospital, Mulago is a deathbed. The only people who get quality services are those who afford to go into the private wing, there are almost no drugs in all health centres countrywide, all civil servants are paid peanuts, the few jobs created are a preserve of Museveni’s friends and relatives’ children; teachers, lawyers, traders, students, university lecturers and all sorts of categories of the Ugandan people have gone on strike saying “Twakowa embera embi” meaning we are tired of depraved conditions. Today, university graduates have either turned con artists or iron bar hit men in order to survive. Kampala’s Executive Director Jennifer Musiisi has destroyed all the livelihood of the ordinary city dwellers and they are now turning into robbers. Just recently, Jennifer Musiisi burned the property of street vendors. When you go to Luzira, majority of the inmates are on the charges of idle and vagabond. It is a pity that Ugandans who have been dispossessed and deprived can be taken to be idle and vagabond in their own country.
While in Murchison Bay prison, I decried the fact that people who are looking for jobs and where to stay are taken to jail on idle and vagabond charges and a Grade One Magistrate who happened to be a remand in the same prison told me that the reason why people are charged with those senseless charges is because the factories that would absorb both the educated and the uneducated were destroyed by the current regime. He added that the government has driven its citizens into hopelessness and despair and now it feels it can only be safe when the unemployed citizens are in jail.
As a matter of fact, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative under the stewardship of Livingstone Sewanyana far outshines the UHRC when it comes to human rights work. The newly formed Human Rights Centre under the stewardship of former UHRC Chairperson Margaret Ssekaggya is also doing a better job than UHRC. Yet the UHRC is allotted funds from state coffers and gets lots of donor funding.
Personally, I have suffered; I have been tormented, dehumanized, brutalized and subjected to pharmacological torture at the orders of the UHRC secretary Gordon Mwesigye. I have also been dispossessed of my belongings within the premises of the UHRC and my complaints with the police have been disregarded. I have filed a complaint with Kampala CPS under SD Ref 63/26/9/2012. Nothing has been done. What they have done instead is to dump me into a mental hospital to ensure I die from there akin to what used to happen in the former Soviet Union. After failing to kill me using drugs, they have resorted to malicious prosecution. What I find amazing is that they label me insane when it suits them and vehemently state that I am totally sane when they want to dump me in police cells and prison. I have never seen invidious and fiendish institutions such as the UHRC, the Uganda Police Force, and the Courts of judicature and Butabika Mental Hospitals under Musevenocracy. All institutions are used, abused and misused to ensure Museveni’s continued hold onto power even when it is clearly evident that the law of diminishing marginal utility has set in.
The problem is partly the use of ruling party cadres
Part of the reasons as to why the UHRC cannot inspire hope is because its staff – both members of the secretariat and the commissioners are not appointed on merit. It is virtually impossible for anybody who doesn’t belong to the ruling NRM to get a job at the commission. The Commission’s technical and administrative head is Gordon Mwesigye UHRC’s permanent secretary. He is not only a staunch NRM cadre but also hails from the same place with the president and share the same Hiima ethnic background. It is clear that in all Mwesigye studied; he has never studied human rights but also has no regard for human dignity. He is there to promote the interests of Museveni and spy on human rights defenders.
As for the chairperson Med Kaggwa, he is knowledgeable about human rights but he is entrapped by the fact that he has to please his boss. It vital to note that he was appointed after failing to make it to parliament and the position was given to him as a transaction for his unwavering support for president Museveni. Ultimately, even when he is knowledgeable about human rights his unquestionable loyalty to Museveni not the state makes him fail to promote and defend human rights. We have had so many people who perpetrate lawlessness and human rights violations just because of their blind loyalty to the president. The late Noble Mayombo was a lawyer with good grades but presided over grave human rights violations and torture as a Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence Director; Edward Kale Kayihura is a lawyer with a masters degree but what he does is horrid; David Tinyefuza until recently was one of the most ruthless creatures in Uganda yet he is also a lawyer. The list goes on and on.
Finally, if indeed the UHRC is the best NHRI, we either have NHRIs in Africa or all of them do the antithesis of what their raison d’etre is. I am fully convinced that without regime change, Uganda’s human rights record will continue to deteriorate not to be better.
Mr. Nuwagaba is a human rights defender