Uganda, with a population of approximately 17 million, gained political independence from Britain in 1963. The country is presently governed by President Yoweri Museveni, who seized power in January 1986 after a five-year guerrilla war waged against the previous regime of Milton Obote and Tito Okello. A National Resistace Council, made up mainly of Museveni's supporters, dominates the legislative process. Opposition parties are suspended, and the National Resistance Army (NRA) is responsible for maintaining security.
The government continues to fight a war in the North and Northeast regions against insurgents who are opposed to Museveni. This war, however, is not felt in the rest of the country. Allegations of human rights abuse, especially against NRA and rebel soldiers, are rife, with reports of torture and extra-judicial killings common. The government has also been accused of using the Treason Law, under which the courts cannot grant bail for up to six months, as a ploy to sanction administratively-motivated detentions. The Constitutent Assembly, to be elected in March 1994, is expected to hold debates on the current draft constitution, following which a new constitution is scheduled to come into effect. The press enjoys considerable freedom, and a few opposition papers are published. There are independent radio and television stations. Occasionally, however, the government has levelled sedition and other charges against journalists.
On the economic front, the country's fortunes have come a long way during Museveni's tenure. The country is implementing a structural adjustment programme and has received support from the international community, although poverty is still a problem. On the whole, there is a strong feeling of patriotism and support for Museveni among the population.
THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANISATIONS
The Uganda Human Rights Activists (UHRA), the Uganda Law Society and the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA-U), are the three oldest organisations concerned with human rights issues. FIDA-U has been very active on womens' rights issues and educational activities, and appears sufficiently organised and experienced to provide training to other groups in the region. Newer groups, such as the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative and the Uganda Gender Resource Centre, are still trying to establish a precise focus for their activities. There appears to be some measure of cooperation among the groups here, although coordination among them is as yet unclear.
Needs of human rights organisations in the country include:
i. Office equipment: computers, typewriters, photocopiers, fax machines, books and legal materials.
ii. Staff needs: Most of the staff working with Ugandan human rights groups have had little or no training in human rights and often have only basic knowledge. Training this staff would be an important contribution to improving the focus and sophistication of these groups. Staff training will be needed in the areas of report writing, advocacy skills, use of international standards, charters and procedures, documentation, computer use, lobbying strategies, internal management and administrative skills, and fundraising skills.
Action for Development (ACFODE) was formed in 1985 to stimulate awareness in Uganda of the needs and rights of women. ACFODE is committed to providing support to improve the quality of the life of women in Uganda.
ACFODE is a membership organisation of about 500 women. A Programme Committee plans and implements programmes for the organisation. An Executive Committee constitutes the decision- making body of the organisation. It formulates policies and approves programmes proposed by the Programme Committee. An Executive Secretary heads the Secretariat of about 20 staff, which includes two lawyers, two researchers and an Education Officer.
ACFODE lobbies and advocates for women's representation and participation at all levels of decision-making and for the reform of laws adversely affecting women, in addition to working for the introduction of gender issues at all levels. ACFODE also assists women to improve their income-generating activities by offering training and technical assistance, as well as by linking them with donors and providing material support.
ACFODE carries out research on issues affecting women, including women's income-generating projects, causes of schoolgirl drop-outs, and obstacles to the realization of women's rights. Research is also carried out on legal and cultural constraints on the legal rights of women. Other issues of concern to ACFODE include the prevalence of female circumcision, dietary stipulations, ignorance, and inheritance of widows by their families. ACFODE organises seminars and workshops to articulate these issues.
In addition, ACFODE publishes a quarterly journal called Arise, which highlights legal and human rights issues and events affecting women. Education on family life and women's health issues, particularly AIDS, are also addressed by ACFODE.
The Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) was established in 1992 to promote human rights education and research, and to advocate for the reform of laws in Uganda.
FHRI is a membership organisation with an eight-member Board. Membership is presently around 100. The organisation is registered as a non-governmental organisation under the NGO Registration Act of 1991. The group is also incorporated as a company limited by guarantee. The group has a Secretariat of ten staff, including an Executive Director, a Programme Officer, editor-publications, a social worker and a research assistant. The administrative staff includes two secretaries, driver, cook and a cleaner/guard.
FHRI has eight project activities:
-Paralegal Training: Persons are trained to provide legal advice to the public. Two major workshops have been held so far, the latest in October 1993;
- Publications:Includes a journal published twice a year;
- Citizens Advice Bureau: Receives complaints and provides legal advice. Where litigation is involved, the case is referred to the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers or the Legal Aid Project;
- Penal Reform Project: Set up to deal with prisoners' rights issues and research prison conditions; and
- Constitution Project: Under this project, FHRI plans to do a critique of the fundamental rights provisions of the Constitution, organise a conference for the constitution-drafting Commission, and monitor debate at the Commission.
In addition, FHRI is planning to set up a Lawyers for Human Rights Network to encourage the participation of lawyers in human rights work.
The Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC) was established on December 2, 1993 after approval from the Council of Makerere University, Kampala. HURIPEC's objectives include the systematic development and dissemination of academic human rights programmes to institutions of learning and to the public.
The Centre has the status of a Department under the supervision of the Human Rights Committee of the Faculty of Law. This status is intended to make it independent of the Law Faculty. The Chairperson of the Centre's Board is the Dean of the Faculty of Law. Three other department heads in the Faculty of Law are members, and there are representatives from the Women, History and Sociology Departments and the Social Science Centre of the University. Joe Oloka-Onyanga, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law, is the Coordinator of the Centre. The Centre intends to hire independent staff as soon as it gets established.
HURIPEC has published two editions of a journal, East African Journal of Peace and Human Rights. The Journal will be an outlet for articles, comments, legislation and other human rights materials and resources. It will be published biannually. Research into police practices, the judiciary and other democratic institutions will be undertaken.
HURIPEC is also opening a library and documentation unit to compile, collate and develop materials and literature on human rights and peace. It presently has a project, the Constitutionalism Digest (CD), which is an abstract of all the documentation submitted to the Ugandan Constitutional Commission by academics, politicians, resistance committees, elders, women, etc. The Centre will also produce a human rights bibliography of published and unpublished human rights materials.
The Centre plans to organise internship programmes for students to enable them to work with human rights groups. It will also embark on regular reviews of the human rights curricula at the Law Faculty, with the aim of expanding the teaching of human rights at all levels of education. The Centre intends to organise seminars, conferences and symposia as one of the methods of achieving its goals.
The Legal Aid Project (LAP) was established in 1992 under an agreement between the Norwegian Bar Association and the Uganda Law Society. LAP's objectives are to provide legal advice and assistance to indigent persons and to undertake legal education. LAP currently has branch offices in Jinja, Kabarale District, and East Uganda. It has a central office located in Kampala.
The project has a Board of Trustees headed by the President of the Uganda Law Society (ULS). Its Secretariat is headed by a Director who is assisted by two professional staff and four administrative staff. Its legal status derives from the ULS.
The Project receives complaints from clients and provides court representation. In October 1993 alone, LAP received 23 new cases, 13 involving women. To date 82 cases have been received, with some of the cases involving such issues as long-term detention without trial and unfair dismissal. LAP has also been involved in seminars on continuing legal education, succession and wills, AIDS, and children. LAP has also issued several publications to create awareness, including a booklet, Making a Will, a handbook for resistance committee courts, a newsletter and a handbook entitled Know Your Rights.
The Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA-U) was first established in Kampala in 1974, but did not become active until 1988. Its objectives include promoting knowledge and awareness of the law, as well as assisting women (especially widows) and children to attain protection under the law.
FIDA-U is a membership organisation open to all women lawyers. At present there are over 100 members. The organs of the association include the General Assembly, the Executive Committee and the Secretariat.
The General Assembly elects the Executive Committee, which in turn supervises the association's programmes. The Executive Committee is made up of seven members--a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, Secretary, Treasurer, Publicity Secretary and two committee members. FIDA-U was registered as an NGO under the NGO Registration Act in 1993. It has a branch office in Mbale. An Administrative Secretary, Deodatha Namusoke, runs the Secretariat on a full-time basis, assisted by two full-time Legal Officers. There is also a Programme Officer, and some volunteers come in to assist.
FIDA-U runs a legal clinic in cooperation with Uganda Finance and Credit Trust. Most of the association's activities are project-based and include a will-writing project, a children's project and a legal education.
The will-writing project operates in Mukono and Mpigi. It educates people on the necessity of writing a will. AIDS is a serious problem in Uganda and people frequently die without leaving a will. In such situations the family of a dead husband often seizes his property without concern for the widow and children. Thus, FIDA-U encourages husbands to write their wills. FIDA-U also provides legal advisory services, mostly to women, regarding inheritance, land, maintenance, and similar matters.
The Uganda Gender Resource Centre was established in 1992 to analyse the position of women, especially rural women, in the areas of health, legal rights and cultural rights, and to empower women to participate in all aspects of national life in Uganda.
The Centre is a membership organisation. In addition, there is an Advisory Board and a Board of Directors, which sets policies and supervises the staff. The Centre's staff includes two professional staff, the Executive Director and the Programme Officer, Yeri Wakabi, and support staff. The Centre is housed in a two-room office in Kampala.
Most of the Centre's activities are consultancy-based, which means that it receives requests from women's groups to organise training of groups or communities in gender and social analysis. In 1993, two women's groups in Kabari and Nganga were trained. The Centre also educates women on various aspects of the law, and refers complaints from women to some other groups.
The Centre has also embarked on an education project on voting procedures, and issued a pamphlet for the recent Constituent Assembly elections in Uganda entitled Know Your Voting Rights for the Constituent Assembly. The Centre also carries out paralegal training in conjunction with ACFODE. It is currently working on a study on the needs and directions for rural women .
Uganda Human Rights Activists (UHRA) was established in 1985 as a non-governmental organisation to create awareness and promote respect for human rights in Uganda.
UHRA's structure includes a General Assembly of members, a nine-member Board of Directors, and a Secretariat. The head of the Secretariat is the Executive Secretary who works part-time and is assisted by a Deputy Executive Secretary. The group has thirteen staff. UHRA is currently at a new stage in its existence. After a few years of little activity, it is re-establishing itself. An important step in this direction was its move to new offices.
UHRA's methods include education, empowerment and human rights monitoring. It publishes a quarterly journal known as The Activist and also a newsletter. A series of Know Your Rights booklets are also issued by the organisation to create awareness of human rights. UHRA also publishes a quarterly report on human rights violations in Uganda.
UHRA organises seminars, workshops and paralegal training courses. It has also established UHRA branches and human rights clubs in schools and institutions of higher learning. It provides legal advice and services to the people.
The Uganda Law Society (ULS) was set up to protect the welfare of lawyers in Uganda and advise the public and government on the law. The ULS acts as an advocacy group.
ULS has an Executive Committee of ten, headed by the President. All lawyers in Uganda are members. The Society does not have independent offices, and operates from the office of its President and the Legal Aid Project. An Administrator currently runs the office.
The major human rights activities of the Law Society are carried out through the Legal Aid Project (LAP), set up as an independent body by ULS. ULS publishes a journal known as the Uganda Law Society Newsletter. It plans to launch a human rights project soon that will monitor human rights violations.
ULS is currently organising a training programme at the local level on election monitoring. It is also involved in a project known as the Civil Education Project under the National Organisation for Civil Education and Election Monitoring (NOCEM).
- Clement Nwankwo
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