MBARARA – The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), a government agency mandated to eliminate all forms of discrimination and inequalities in Uganda, has ordered Bishop Stuart University, a private university established by Ankole Anglican Diocese in Mbarara District, to stop ring-fencing key positions in the guild administration for only students of the Anglican faith, saying the move contradicts the equality principle as enshrined in the constitution.
In a July 18 ruling, the EOC tribunal ruled that the practice of allowing only students who belong to the Anglican faith to contest and occupy key offices of the Guild administration to the exclusion of others has the adverse effect of killing natural endowments of leadership skills of the non-Anglican students at the university, “who are rudely denied the opportunity to harness their skills as to develop into future leaders”.
The Commission was responding to a petition by Deusdedit Bwengye, a law student at the university, who protested some provisions of the University’s Guild Constitution that ring-fence certain positions on the Guild Executive exclusively for students who belong to the Anglican faith.
Bwengye’s petition arose of the university rules that stipulate that for a student at the university to contest for any of the posts of Chairperson and Vice Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, Guild President, Guild Vice President, Guild Speaker and Deputy Guild Speaker, Minister of Religious Affairs and Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, he or she must belong to the Anglican faith. The prospective candidates are also required to seek clearance from the University Chaplain as well as their home Parish. Contestants for the office of Guild President are additionally required to include baptism cards and marriage certificates on their applications for nominations.
The complainant, therefore, contends that the provisions and requirements referred to herein are discriminatory and amount to nullification of equal opportunities as they seek to exclude students who do not belong to or profess the Anglican faith from contesting for the listed Guild positions. The Complainant consequently prays that the Commission declares the impugned provisions discriminatory and accordingly nullifies them.
And in agreement, the EOC agreed that the university rules are discriminatory and offend Uganda’s constitution and other international laws.
“Article 3(1) of the Guild constitution states that all students are equal before and under the guild laws in all spheres of academic, political, and social life and every other respect and shall enjoy equal protection of the Guild law. Article 3(iv) of the same Guild constitution confers an unfettered right upon all members of the students’ guild to elect and to be elected to any organ of the guild. Article 1(5) of the constitution provides that all registered students of Bishop Stuart University shall be members of the Guild… Moreover each student is mandated to pay subscription fees to the students’ guild under Article 1(5) of the constitution,” reads in part the ruling by Mr Joel Cox Ojuko, the presiding member of the EOC tribunal.
“However, in sharp contrast to the above provisions, the same constitution provides in Article 6 that the chairperson and the vice chairperson of the Guild Electoral Commission shall be a member of the Anglican Communion and shall be nominated after getting clearance from the university parish. Similarly, contestants for the office of the Guild President, Vice Guild President, Guild Speaker, Deputy Guild Speaker, Minister for Justice and Constitutional affairs and the minister for religious affairs must mandatorily be members of the Anglican Communion and must cleared by the university authorities and their home parishes,” the ruling adds.
The EOC adds that the impugned provisions are discriminatory within the meaning of article 21 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, Sections 1 and 14 of the EOC Act 2007, Article 2 of the Universal Declarations of Human Rights, Article 2(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966; Articles 2 and 3 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, and the Declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and Discrimination based on religion or belief (UNGA Resolution 36/55 of 25th November 1981).
“By giving unequal treatment to its students on the basis of religion, the respondent does not only offend Uganda’s constitution and other laws (including international and regional instruments) listed above but contradicts its own constitution whose provisions on equal opportunities for all students are clear cut. Reading the provisions of the Guild Constitution together, it is clear that the impugned provisions are out of sync with the overall purpose of that document and the students guild generally, which seeks to allow all students to showcase their leadership abilities and competences. This is in view of the fact that students are admitted from all walks of life and no reference is made to religion as a mandatory requirement for admission to the respondent university. It is discriminatory for students who profess the Anglican faith to be given preferential treatment, especially with regards to offering themselves to contest for leadership positions,” the ruling reads.
EOC orders the university to delete the impugned provisions of the Guild Constitution and cause amendments thereto with clear provisions guaranteeing equal opportunities and non-discrimination in respect to all affairs and activities of the students’ community, including but not limited to students’ leadership.
“It is ordered that a duly amended copy of the respondents Guild Constitution in the terms directed in Paragraph 3 above shall be submitted to the tribunal registry at Plot 7 Luthuli Close, Bugolobi, Kampala not later than 90 days from the date of this decision,” EOC ruling concludes.