The Commission’s attention has once again been drawn to another article by Mr. Vincent Nuwagaba that he sent to the UHRC official e mail but also posted on Ugandans-at-heart page and copied to his other partners on November 10, 2012. Comments in the article which seem to have been sparked off by the news that the Uganda Human Rights Commission had won the Award of best African National Human Rights Institution are to say the least unfortunate. This defamatory article follows an earlier one by the same author posted on Pambazuka and All Africa websites sometime in April this year.
The Commission wishes to re-state its earlier observation that whereas it has known Mr. Vincent Nuwagaba as a self-acclaimed human rights defender, it is now more evident than before that Vincent is in urgent need of help from colleagues in the human rights fraternity to receive adequate mental health and counseling. It is on record that Mr. Nuwagaba has been admitted into Butabika Hospital more than twice. He has assaulted a Police Officer at CPS and another at the UHRC Head Office who had to seek medical attention for wounds inflicted upon them after being bitten by Mr. Nuwagaba. Mr. Nuwagaba has for instance made it a habit to come to the office premises of UHRC to disrupt work, physically attack the security personnel at the premises, hurl insults and even threaten violence against senior officials of UHRC. He has been making all manner of wild allegations which have most often than not smacked of personal vendetta. The Commission is weary of his incoherent and sometimes violent behavior which has landed him in and out of Butabika Hospital and police cells.
Given the above observations therefore, one would be tempted to dismiss Mr. Nuwagaba’s consistent attacks on the UHRC as an institution and its leadership as the work of an unstable and delusional mind. Someone reading Mr. Nuwagaba’s recent piece can also see undertones of personal vendetta against particular individuals and incoherent and unfocused but sometimes seemingly calculated derogatory statements. In the same article Mr. Nuwagaba in his characteristic hysterical style gives a litany of his view on areas of human rights concerns which the UHRC has not addressed to his satisfaction. Such areas according to him span from University tuition, alleged human rights violations in detention centers, access to health services, timely access to justice and unemployment among many others. He fails or deliberately refuses to realize that the Uganda Human Rights Commission has made a contribution in many of the areas he points out.
Noting, however, that Mr Nuwagaba’s attacks on the Commission have not only been consistent and calculated to target specific individuals but have been deliberately widely disseminated including using the social media, the Commission has been prompted to make clarifications on some of the allegations for the benefit of the public and especially those who may not know what Mr. Vincent Nuwagaba is currently experiencing:
1. Award for Best Africa National Human Rights Institution
The Uganda Human Rights Commission received an award as the best National Human Rights Institution from the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights during a Special Session held in Yamoussoukro, Cote d’ Ivoire to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Some of the benchmarks that were used for selecting the winners included among others compliance with the Paris Principles; level of commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, and the strengthening of democracy and good governance at the national level through its educational role to the public; advisory role to the government, including regarding the ratification of the international treaties and the harmonization of national laws with international treaty obligation and the level of commitment and partnership with other local human rights stakeholders; and level of cooperation with international, regional and national institutions that are competent in the areas of the promotion of human rights. In addition, the Uganda Human Rights Commission currently holds an ‘A’ status given by the United Nation’s International Coordinating Committee for National Human Rights Institutions.
Although Mr. Nuwagaba is oblivious of the important contribution that the UHRC has made to the promotion and protection of human rights in Uganda, there are very many clear headed people who recognize the tremendous work of the Commission, albeit the many challenges we face. Mr. Nuwagaba and his sponsors are however entitled to their own opinion.
2. Slow resolution of human rights violations by UHRC
The Commission wishes to clarify that the function to receive and resolve human rights complaints is a process and therefore cannot be concluded in a day or week. The process for instance involves carrying out investigations to establish facts, seeking out responses from the accused side and contacting other institutions or individuals relevant to the case. Cases forwarded for hearing at the tribunal also go through rigorous procedures before they are concluded. These processes are hinged on the principles of natural justice which may sometimes slow down the delivery of justice.
We also wish to clarify that although the Commission orders the payment of awards to victims of human rights violations through its tribunal decisions, it does not have a budget to pay the victims because this is outside its mandate. The Commission has however over the years recommended and lobbied government to create a compensation fund for victims of human rights violations and we are optimistic that government will sooner than later be in position to embrace the proposal.
3. Allegation that UHRC fights Human Rights Defenders
The allegation that UHRC fights human rights defenders who are critical of government’s poor human rights record is as wild as it sounds. The Commission itself is a human rights defender and is cognizant of fact that it is the lead agency in the promotion and protection of human rights in Uganda. In recognition of its important role, the Commission set up a Human Rights Defenders Desk last year based at its Head Office to handle matters of human rights defenders in Uganda. The Commission has spearheaded partnerships with other human rights defenders mainly CSOs in carrying out joint human rights advocacy campaigns. These partnerships have yielded successes such as the enactment of the Ant-Torture law this year and joint human rights advocacy campaigns, to mention but a few.
4. UHRC Visits to detention places
Inspection of detention places is one the core mandates of the Commission which we boast of performing to the best of our ability within the resources available. The Commission has compiled and published details of the number, location, action taken and recommendations for improvement of places of detention visited in its annual reports presented to Parliament. Mr. Nuwagaba is advised to appraise himself with this information which can be found in the 14 annual reports so far published by the Commission since inception and on the UHRC website firstname.lastname@example.org.
UHRC wishes to inform the public and to remind Mr. Nuwagaba that in fulfillment of its Constitutional mandate, it has visited most of the detention places referred to in his article such as Kitalya Prison Farm on Mityana road which is miles away from the UHRC Head office and not ‘a stone throw away’ from UHRC Head office as he alleges. The Commission is happy to note that it has taken immediate corrective measures during such visits where necessary such as release of some prisoners who have stayed beyond the Constitutional mandatory period. The Commission has also held on the spot meetings with prison officials to raise issues that require immediate attention and has in addition made recommendations to both institutions and government for long term improvements of those human rights concerns identified in the detention places.
5. Allegation that UHRC has tortured Mr. Nuwagaba
Allegations that Mr. Nuwagaba has been tortured on the orders of the UHRC Secretary to the Commission Mr. G.T Mwesigye are false and a figment of Mr. Nuwagaba’s imagination. Mr. Nuwagaba knows very well that the UHRC premises are guarded by Police who are charged with ensuring the safety of all UHRC staff and property. It is therefore the duty of the Police at UHRC to keep vagabonds out of the premises and to apprehend anyone whose behavior is seen to breach peace and safety of staff and property at UHRC.
The Commission receives a number of visitors at its offices seeking assistance in various ways. One wonders why it is only Mr. Nuwagaba who keeps alleging that he is tortured. The Uganda Human Rights Commission wishes to reiterate its earlier assertion that none of its staff has ordered the Police to subject its visitors to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment and least of all Mr. Vincent Nuwagaba whose condition is well known to us and most of the human rights defenders in Kampala. We are for instance aware that Mr. Nuwagaba has recently accosted and hurled insults at Mr. Patrick Tumwine of the Human Rights Network, Uganda at a workshop in the Imperial Royale Hotel, Kampala; prompting the organisers to throw him out of the meeting.
6. Allegation of partisan officials at UHRC
We wish to assure Mr. Nuwagaba and the public at large that the Uganda Human Rights Commission offers equal employment opportunities to all Ugandans and hires staff on merit. The Commission has a well laid out, competitive and transparent system for recruitment of staff. Mr. Nuwagaba’s allegations are therefore false, unfounded and leave us with no option but to believe that they are intended to malign the good name of the Commission. Mr. Nuwagaba’s articles and encounters with UHRC officials have been for most of the time characterized by derogatory statements and bordering on a hate campaign against particular individuals. One wonders whether this is part of his agenda as a self-acclaimed human rights defender!
7. UHRC position on topical human rights issues
The Uganda Human Rights Commission has over the years endeavoured to offer guidance to government, government agencies and the general public on emerging human rights issues that have had a bearing on enjoyment of human rights in Uganda. The Commission has issued statements on a number of human rights concerns through recommendations in its reports, the media and its website. Such issues range from freedom of expression, personal liberties, right to life , respect for the rule of law, rights of minorities, right to health, right to education, rights of children, rights of detainees, call for quick access to justice, respect of human rights by security agencies and call for respect of civic duties by citizens among many others. In addition to public statements, the Commission also uses quiet diplomacy and lobbying of key government agencies to raise topical human rights concerns and to secure their commitment to the observance of human rights in the country. It is therefore not true that the Commission has been keeping quiet on important human rights issues. Mr. Nuwagaba is advised to cross check the facts before making sweeping statements intended to bring the Commission into disrepute.
In conclusion therefore, Mr. Nuwagaba is advised to come to terms with his situation and deal with it squarely. We urge all people of good will and those known to him to encourage him to accept his predicament and urgently seek medical attention. We at the Commission appreciate his passion for human rights in this country but caution that his crusade may not yield much if he does not act like someone who is mentally stable. The Uganda Human Rights Commission also wishes to advise Mr. Nuwagaba to avoid making visits to UHRC Head office intended to deliberately disrupt peace and hurl insults at UHRC officials. The Commission would like to sound a serious warning to Mr. Nuwagaba that if he is bent on causing disruption and breach of safety and peace at the UHRC under the guise of being a human rights defender, the security personnel at UHRC premises will not hesitate to sternly deal with him in line with law.
Finally, the Commission recognizes the fact that it is the only National Human Rights Institution in Uganda and will always remain so. It is UHRC’s firm conviction therefore, that there is no need for it to compete for supremacy with any other organization in Uganda. The Uganda Human Rights Commission therefore once again assures its partners and the general public that it is fully committed to the fulfillment of its mandate of promoting and protecting human rights of all Ugandans as clearly provided under the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, within the resources available to it. The Commission will not be deterred by irresponsible and redundant statements by detractors masquerading as human rights defenders.
Florence M. Munyirwa,
Public Affairs Manager,
Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC)