KAMPALA – National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda (NCHRD-U) has released a report on civic space in Uganda in which the majority of Ugandans say the country is not heading in the right direction as regards providing for rights and practicing the same.
The 3-year USAID/Uganda Rights and Justice Activity (RAJA) activity which commenced on September 1, 2020, sought to ensure that citizens know, use, and shape the law to exercise their civil and political rights in a safe and secure manner.
The program also aims to ensure that members of vulnerable populations who are victims of human rights abuses are supported to access justice, protection and referral services.
In the survey, 75.3% of respondents expressed concern that Uganda seemed to be headed in the wrong direction while 15% of respondents said the country was headed in the right direction.
Concerned perceptions were attributed to the presence and use of repressive laws such as the Ant LGBTQI law and police brutality. The Uganda Police Force was ranked as the least trusted institution in Uganda. The Director of Prosecutions, Magistrates courts, and High court were also singled but as not trustworthy in regard to upholding the rule of law and supporting the exercise of civil liberties.
“Three dimensions out of the five were ranked as Restricted, these are Freedom of Information and Expression, Rights of Assembly and Association, and Human Rights/Rule of Law This gives a conclusion that generally the Civic space in Uganda is restricted,” says the report.
According to the report, the rule of law was rated as the most violated right among the civic space dimensions with 86.9% of respondents ranking it high among all five civic space dimensions. This was followed by Rights to Information and Freedom of expression another dimension that 75.4% of the respondents chose because of the way the media institutions were being stifled. The right to assembly and association was rated as the third most violated rights at 67.2%. Citizen participation and Non-discrimination and inclusion were considered to be partially protected are were ranked 4th and 5th respectively with 42.6% and 26.2% respondents who felt that there were legislations that protect the relevant dimensions even though there were some legal loopholes that occasionally used to restrict civic space.
The Civic Space Index for 2022 showed that media freedoms are not guaranteed law and respected in practice as the respondents overwhelmingly said No (77.4%) with only 19.4 % affirming that they are guaranteed and protected in practice. About 4% said there were Not sure if there is freedom to access media.
However, space for the exercise of civil liberties mainly around women’s rights and their participation in civic matters was rated as the freest in the country.
“The survey showed that 73.3% of respondents agreed that women have access to civil rights to some extent The survey to a large extent agreed that People with disabilities can freely exercise their right to freedom of association. assembly, and expression on an equal basis with others.”
Robert Kirenga, Executive Director, NCHRD-U noted that reports by domestic and international rights organizations allude to the fact that the Government of Uganda has over the past decade grown increasingly less tolerant of criticism be it from civil society or political opposition.
“This report bears witness to legal attempts to suppress dissenting voices and silence political opposition through such laws as the recently ascended Computer Misuse Act (2022) and Public Order Management Act (2013) which criminalize some internet activities despite concerns that the law could curtail online freedom of expression.”
He said that their role as a coalition is to protect and promote the work of Human Rights Defenders in a safe and secure environment through linkages with national, regional, and international like-minded entities, advocacy and networking, capacity building, and protection, safety, and security management.
He, however, decried that hundreds of Uganda’s governance and human rights NGOs are on the verge of closure because Uganda’s donor basket funding scheme Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) was forced to wind down its operation in Uganda, ending a long drawn-out fight between government authorities and European donors.
“The donors had, we are told, reached the end of their tether due to intimidation, harassment and other forms of abuse meted by state agents against beneficiaries of the multi-million-dollar facility,” he said.
Kirenga noted that the period under review, from October 2021 to October 2022 was marred by continued violence, and some summarily killing of citizens, more especially opposition political party members were arbitrarily arrested, and jailed beyond the time limits provided for in the constitution, whilst the state heavy-handedness on the journalist was most pronounced in 2022.
He urged the government to allow civil society to freely contribute to the political, economic, and social life of our societies without restraint, and in line with the constitution of Uganda and other international human rights conventions it ratified.
“We believe that an enabling civic space allows individuals and groups to contribute to policy-making that affects their lives, including by: accessing information, engaging in dialogue, expressing dissent or disagreement, and joining together to express their views.”
“Reversing the shrinking civic space trend requires a multi-faceted and harmonized approach that prizes trust. efficiency, and local knowledge There are robust and ongoing conversations on issues affecting civic space. but the wide range of conversations has diluted both the urgency and nuance in figuring out how to ensure civil society actors can and continue to do their work,” he noted.
Mr. Richard Nelson – Mission Director, USAID said that the report is important because it captures the perception of the Ugandan people about the state of civic space in Uganda.
“As you look at the report, you’ll notice that it is Ugandan-developed and assessed. USAID provided the funding for it, but it was Ugandans that led the effort.”
He said that it’s important for the people of Uganda to be familiar and aware of these trends so that they can speak to their leaders to be able to create some awareness and bring about some change to improve this civic space.
He noted that according to the report, people are concerned about the freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of association.
“You’re seeing that people feel like they don’t they that protection, even though those protections are guaranteed in the Constitution.”
Mr. Robert urged the government to utilize the report and improve on the shrinking spaces.
“It’s a useful resource for the government to be able to have better visibility on what’s happening on the ground and a government that ignores civil society or see civil society as a threat will lack access to that information and without that information, the government is going to be less equipped, less prepared to provide for his people,” he said.
- NCHRD-U to take the in mobilizing and coordinating their constituency of human rights defenders in constructive dialogue on issues of concern to the various thematic constituencies and sub-regional areas they represent A collective voice approach to addressing concerns is key to improving civic space and ensuring that there is continued participation the citizens
- Urge the various pillars of government to listen to the citizens and review and amend the restrictive provisions on several legal instruments that curtail civic space and replace them with more enabling provisions that are in tandem with international standards and norms
- Civil society organizations to focus on the strengthening and creation of local links with the grassroots communities with a view of creating spaces for improving citizens’ participation in civic affairs
- The NCRHD-U should expedite its operational areas through the setting up of sub- regional human rights defenders coalitions to advocate and promote human rights awareness and community-based protection mechanisms that are inclusive and networked to civil society and state institutions across the country.
- Human Rights organizations should build a robust information management and reporting system to support evidence-based advocacy. This should be supported with simple human rights monitoring and case management empowered to handle issues from local levels.