KAMPALA – Court has appointed December 13, 2022 as the date to hear applications of an American man and other organization as amicus curiae in a high-stakes human rights litigation challenging Uganda’s national digital ID system.
In the said case, the civil society organizations including Health Equity and Policy Initiative – HEAPI, Unwanted Witness, and Initiative for Social and Economic Rights – ISER versus the Attorney General and National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA), alleges that because the Government of Uganda has made the national digital ID a mandatory requirement for accessing public services, many individuals have been effectively excluded from their life-saving social rights.
During the first hearing on Monday, Ms. Salima Namusobya – Executive Director – ISER told the press that there are a significant number of Ugandans mostly vulnerable groups that are being excluded from getting social services such as healthcare, and the Senior Citizen Grant because they do not have a national ID.
She says that lack of IDs by these people is not out of their wish but rather because of the inefficiencies within the NIRA processes.
“Some of them have errors on their national IDs that have not been ratified.”
“We are asking the court that first of all, it is not right that they continue to have a mandatory requirement for the national ID and yet NIRA itself admits that there is a significant number of Ugandans that do not have an ID. So if you insist on that, you are going to out many people,” she added.
According to Namusobya, the government should allow other forms of identification to be used such as birth certificates and election cards.
Through their attorney, Mr Laston Gulume, the CSOs revealed that the court has given them more time to enable the respondents to file additional affidavits.
“Also, we had other two people who want to participate in the case as amicus curiae. We have professor Alston Philip from New York and another organisation. The court gave us up to 13th December, 2022 so that it can first be able to determine the applications of these other two parties who want to join the case. Then thereafter, the court will give us further directions on when to file our arguments and have the case heard and determined.”
The CSOs note that the Government of Uganda, including representatives from NIRA, has consistently acknowledged that millions continue to be excluded from the national ID, particularly older persons, children, and people with disabilities.
“However, in the months since this case was first filed in the High Court of Kampala on the 23rd of April, it has become apparent that by continuing to impose a mandatory requirement to have a national ID number or national ID card in order to access social services, the problems of exclusion continue unabated,” the argued.
Mr. Odur Anthony, the Executive Director, HEAPI notes that “Our most recent community interactions show that the problems with the national ID system continue to be a typical occurrence as evidenced by people whose attempts to obtain an ID have been unsuccessful, fundamental errors in personal data, protracted processing delays, and malfunctions of biometric equipment, to mention but a few. These flaws have formed the foundation for mass exclusion.”
Moreover, he says, this continued exclusion has not stopped the Government from extending the use of the national ID to other public services, including the enrolment of learners in public education
Ms. Atori Elizabeth from ISER says “If enrolling learners is intended to help the Government successfully plan for them, then relying solely on data from a deficient national ID system will undoubtedly lead to deceptive results. Ultimately, some learners will be excluded from access to education.”
Combined with the fact that current IDs are due to expire over the next two years, and government has already floated proposals to hike fees and introduce ever more intrusive data collection requirements, more and more people in Uganda are likely to be affected.
Meanwhile, those who are already excluded continue to suffer violations of their basic social rights and their dignity.