Human Rights Committee
2178th and 2179th Meetings (AM & PM)
POLYGAMY, FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION UNACCEPTABLE, SAYS CHAIRMAN
AS HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONCLUDES REVIEW OF UGANDA’S REPORT
Though culture, tradition and religion very often offered comfortable explanations for practices like polygamy and female genital mutilation, they were an attack on the dignity of women and offended all human individuals, Abdelfattah Amor, Chairman of the Human Rights Committee, said this afternoon as the Committee concluded its consideration of Uganda’s initial report.
In his statement at the end of today’s meeting, he said that while a certain popular cultural belief would have everyone accept that an uncircumcised woman was not a real woman, the State party could not go along with such a practice, which violated human rights since it had entered into commitments that it must respect. In Uganda’s case, polygamy and female genital mutilation were unacceptable. Many States had succeeded in creating a new mentality and a new social reality. Uganda was in an excellent position to go along the same path.
Noting that the Committee must ensure that each State party was fulfilling its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, he said that Uganda’s establishment of a Human Rights Commission provided a great deal of hope, as well as an awareness of the enormous difficulties encountered. However, its initial report gave a feeling of incompleteness and an impression that very little had been achieved, compared to what remained to be done.
During its consideration of Uganda’s report, the 18-member expert panel heard Ugandan government officials describe their country’s efforts to ensure compliance with the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, following nearly 30 years in which its people had been victim to myriad violations of their rights. Emerging in 1986 from years of brutal authoritarian rule, Uganda had begun a new era and had begun repairing its poor reputation by denouncing human rights violations and rebuilding respect for democracy and good governance.
The Human Rights Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, 24 March, to begin its consideration of the second periodic report of Lithuania.
The Human Rights Committee met this morning to continue its consideration of Uganda’s initial report on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. [For background information on the Committee’s eightieth session, please see Press Release HR/CT/650 of 22 March.]
JOSEPH KAKOOZA, Chairman of the Uganda Law Reform Commission, said, with respect to the number of women on Uganda’s Superior Court system, that there were three women justices on the Court of Appeal, eight on the High Court, and one on the Supreme Court. A woman served in the dual role of Presiding Judge of the Court of Appeal and Deputy Chief Justice of Uganda.
Regarding early and forced marriages, he said the minimum age of consent under the Constitution was 18 years. Any two freely consenting people of that age could enter into marriage under statutory law. In practice, however, there were forced and early marriages under customary and Islamic law, but not under statutory law.
VICTORIA TINDIFA said the Chainlink initiative involved the scheduling of court cases, among other things. Of the 30 to 40 cases scheduled for the High Court, there was a 70 per cent completion rate. The initiative also involved the compilation of best practices.
BEEKUNDA GEORGE KACWA, Commissioner in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, said that domestic violence could be economic, physical, social or psychological. The control and ownership of family resources, usually by men, could lead to violence, such as when relatives of a deceased husband denied his widow inheritance rights. Violence could also result if members of the family missed out on the distribution of resources.
He said domestic violence also persisted because of women’s reluctance to speak out. Owing to cultural stereotypes, most Ugandan women were submissive and would not wish to accuse their husbands publicly for fear of being divorced, denied economic resources or provoking a return of the bride price. However, women were being sensitized to the need for breaking the silence in order to reduce domestic violence.
DAVID NSALASATTA, Ministry of Internal Affairs, said there had been an increase in the reporting of violence by police officers, possibly due to improved police efficiency and growing public confidence in the police force.
Regarding capital punishment, he said the death sentence was mandatory in cases of murder, aggravated robbery, treason and terrorist acts resulting in death.
As to why Uganda did not abolish the death penalty, he said it was a constitutional matter that was under regular review by the Government. Furthermore, the retention of capital punishment enjoyed public support.
On trials for military and defence forces, JOHN PAUL SSONKO, Legal Officer in the Ministry of Defence, said that a field court martial was normally used during operations. The panels were formed before military operations were dispatched, and persons charged with committing crimes in the field were brought before them when it was impractical to carry out trials or hearings at another locale. A field court martial also allowed commanders and troops to maintain the momentum of field operations. Lawmakers and the Uganda Defence Forces (UDF) found it necessary to give special powers to that court. There was no right of appeal. He added, however, that a general court martial could be appealed within the judicial system.
He went on to say that Uganda had passed its slate of anti-terrorist measures following the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States. It was up to prosecuting attorney’s to prove that individuals, groups or entities facing charges were involved in terrorist activities. On the trial of UDF charged with offences, in the field, particularly in the Democratic People’s Republic of the Congo, he said that such cases were handled by court inside Uganda. Several cases that had been tried in Congolese court had been found illegal. He said that the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Koyn, operated outside Uganda and their rights violations should be investigated by and tried before an international tribunal.
Uganda’s Response to Written Questions
The delegation then addressed a series of specific questions submitted by the panel concerning articles 7 through 27 of the Covenant. JOHN KAMYA, Superintendent of Police, first took up queries regarding reported cases of torture. He said that law in Uganda prohibited the use of force in questioning suspects. Any officer of any force –- military, police, prison officers or others -– was prohibited from using force. If such persons were charged with torture, they were tried. As for the police, law enforcement authorities had worked with the Uganda Human Rights Commission to come up with a human rights training manual covering the proper use of force, among other things.
The UDF also made use of a rights-based training manual, and the principles of human rights had been incorporated into curricula at training academies. He went on to say that compensation was paid to the victims of torture.
On the treatment of detainees, Mr. NSALASATTA said that Uganda classified violent offenders as murderers, persons committing aggravated robberies and rapists. Violent offenders were not automatically consigned to solitary confinement. That punishment was reserved for persons who committed violent acts while in prison or those found criminally insane. In most cases, solitary confinement was a purely disciplinary measure imposed while other alternatives were being explored. He added that a recent bill outlawing corporal punishment and solitary confinement was still awaiting action by Parliament.
Mr. KAMYA said the Uganda’s Children’s Act had established the country’s legislation on promoting and protecting the rights of children. It also set out how the country’s youth would be treated under arrest and/or detention. Local authorities and councils must have a focal point for children’s affairs, he added. Advocacy materials on the specifics of the Act had been widely disseminated, and the juvenile detention system was being overhauled. Community police forces were being sensitized to child protection issues and, so far, relevant units had been established within five police precincts.
Mr. NSALASATTA said detention conditions were marked by overcrowding, dilapidated structures built in the 1920s and budgetary constraints. The prisons had been built to accommodate about 8,000 prisoners, but there were a total of 18,000 inmates throughout the country.
He said that in order to reduce congestion, the Government had introduced community service for petty offences. Pilot projects were being carried out in four districts. In addition, the Government had earmarked funds for the capitalization of prison farms, which were now able to feed prisoners with three meals a day.
This year, the Government had raised the budget for medical services by 20 per cent, he said. It had also made efforts to improve sanitation by building modern water-closet toilets to replace buckets. The Government and its donor partners had constructed eight new female wings in different parts of the country, increasing capacity from 8,000 to 9,000.
On staffing, he said the Government had allowed the police and prison services to continue recruiting until they reached adequate staff levels. Some 600 prison personnel and the same number of police were under training and would soon be graduating. The same number of police personnel was being trained.
With respect to the backlog of cases, he said the Government was taking measures to reduce the number of remand inmates. It also had a plan to increase the number of judges and magistrates, as well as the number of courts.
Mr. Nsalasatta said steps had been taken to abolish so-called safe houses established in the mid- and late 1980s to combat terrorism. At that time, the country had not been ready to place arrested terrorist suspects together with the general prison population. The safe houses had been closed following the Government’s success in containing the terrorism threat.
Mr. KACWA said, with regard to the prohibition of slavery and servitude, that slavery was outlawed in Uganda and did not exist at all. The Government and the Federation of Ugandan Employers were carrying out a sensitization programme to discourage the exploitation of children. There was also a programme to stop commercial sex.
Mr. SSONKO, addressing the abduction of children by terrorists in northern Uganda, said that the Uganda People’s Defence Forces often rescued them following encounters with Lord’s Resistance Army terrorists. Sometimes the children themselves ran away after being sent on errands. They were taken to child protection units established by the military with the assistance of Save the Children organizations in Europe.
The time the children spent in such centres were aimed at confidence-building and eliminating fear of military uniforms and medical treatment. They were then transferred to rehabilitation centres in various northern towns. While there, the children were detraumatized for an average of one month. Meanwhile, the military sought their parents and next of kin.
Denying that the military recruited children, he said the Government’s recruitment policy did not allow that. The procedure required that the applicant provide an introductory letter from local councils, as well as letters from referees. However, proof of age was very difficult to verify in the absence of birth certificates and other proof. Accounts by parents and other relatives were not always accurate.
Regarding former child soldiers, he said Uganda had first experienced the phenomenon in the Luwero war of 1986. After that conflict, the Government had created special elementary schools for those children where they learnt elementary education and social skills. Today, some were university graduates, while others had returned to the military or joined other sectors. Some non-governmental organizations had established centres to train them in special skills.
EUNICE KISEMBO, Legal Officer in the Ministry of Defence, described a policy aimed at protecting and assisting internally displaced persons. The strategy was to ensure institutional arrangements to protect the citizens against arbitrary displacement and to facilitate their return. Fundamental to the policy was the recognition that they enjoyed the rights like all other Ugandans. The government policy had drawn on United Nations conventions and other international standards on internal displacement. A rapprochement had been established with the Government of the Sudan to minimize the conflict in the north.
OLIVE ZAALE, Commissioner for Legal Affairs, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, acknowledged the congestion in Ugandan prisons. The Government had put in place measures to deal with that problem by increasing the recruitment of police officers, prison wardens, State attorneys and magistrates.
Questions by Experts
NIGEL RODLEY, expert form the United Kingdom, said that his overall opinion thus far had been that the delegation’s responses had not been as frank as the information provided in the initial report. Perhaps that had been because many of the facts and figures had been compiled and supplied by the Uganda Human Rights Commission. By example, he said that, interestingly, the Commission had reported many cases of torture or cruel punishment, particularly in cases of detention, but the delegation had responded today that the practice was in no way institutionalized.
He also said that the delegation had emphasized that the army did not have the power of arrest and detention, but the report had related a case of death under detention. Now while that was just one case, he noted that a report compiled by Human Rights Watch listed case after case of alleged interrogation and detention –- in “barracks” or “safe houses” -- which showed no respect for any of the constitutional rules on arrest and detention or the duty of authorities to present accused persons to judges within 24 hours. Such reports would lead one to believe that such practices were indeed going on. The delegation had asserted that barracks were no longer in use, but the Human Rights Watch report seemed to indicate an altogether different situation. Could the delegation clarify?
On isolation and solitary confinement, he said that the delegation had said such punishment was imposed only for a limited number of days. How many days? Was the period renewable? Who made the decision to remand someone to solitary confinement? Could the decision be appealed? He also expressed concern about serious overcrowding in Uganda’s prisons and detention centres.
AHMED TAWFIK KHALIL, expert from Egypt, said he was certain that no one underestimated the real difficulties Uganda was facing, including lack of resources, ongoing conflict and the devastating impact of the HIV/AIDS virus. And with so many children and youth in the country, it was clear that huge segments of the population might be vulnerable to economic and social exploitation. What was being done to ensure that international child labour laws were being respected? As regarded economic and sexual exploitation, what tangible results had been achieved by pilot projects aimed at protecting children from such practices?
ALFRDEDO CASTILLERO HOYOS, expert from Panama, addressed Uganda’s policies on immigration, freedom of movement and circulation. He wondered whether restrictions on freedom imposed by Ugandan authorities were compatible with the Covenant.
HIPOLITI SOLARI-YRIGOYEN, expert from Argentina, addressing article 18 of freedom of religion, conscience and thought, asked on what grounds, if any, citizens of Uganda could object to military service.
IVAN SHEARER, expert from Australia, wondered if the Government had any initiatives under way aimed at better acquainting the country’s judiciary to the principles of the Covenant. He had concerns on a number of legal and judicial issues, including the court martial process and limitations on rights of appeal. Was there an armed forces act or military act of some kind that limited the right of appeal for persons facing court martial?
WALTER KALIN, expert from Switzerland, wondered if caning and other corporal punishment measures were included in the bill before Parliament on abolishing such practices. The report also mentioned that prisoners were put on a penal diet. What was that exactly? He expressed concern about the situation of refugee and displaced person camps. Following the most recent tragic incident, in which the Lord’s Resistance Army had raided a refugee camp and killed hundreds of inhabitants, he wondered if the Government was taking steps to ensure that enhanced security measures were in place.
The expert from India, PRAFULLACHANDRA NATWALAL BHAGWATI, asked what plans were under way to implement International Labour Organization (ILO) convention 182 on hazardous employment. He also wondered about training of the judiciary and prosecuting officers in human rights, as well as in the principles of the Covenant. He asked if any radical measures were under consideration to reduce the backlog of cases, which was crippling Uganda’s judicial system.
He said the report had noted that legal aid was available for defence and/or counselling for death penalty cases or for those punishable by life imprisonment. Was it provided in other cases of lengthy detention? Were lawyers provided? The efficacy of the legal aid system very much depended on the consistency and quality of the assistance given. He added that the report had also stated that confessions could be recorded before an “assistant police inspector”. Was it safe to allow such a confession to be heard by junior authorities?
FRANCO DEPASQUALE, expert from Malta, wondered if Uganda was considering establishing a police board. Moving on, he said it seemed that cases of torture during interrogation or detention were not rare. In the setting up of new model police stations, was the Government considering installing video recording and surveillance equipment to monitor interrogations?
Delegation’s Response to Written Questions
Addressing the experts’ remaining concerns, Mr. KAMYA said that legislation in place allowing police to search premises without a warrant was legal and compatible with the Covenant.
Ms. ZAALE said that freedom of expression was a settled matter in Uganda. The Courts had determined that such freedom was a basic right, and existing laws were being brought in line with international norms on the matter. She said there was no law authorizing the suspension of publication or circulation of newspapers. The Government could bring charges against journalists or publications, but punishment did not include suspension of privileges or licenses. At the moment, the Government was in the process of drafting a law on access to information that would hopefully be acted on by the end of the year.
On freedom of assembly, participation and expression, Mr. SSONKO said that political parties could carry out their activities in all respects. The freedom of peaceful assembly was guaranteed to everyone. But police could suspend such gatherings if events were deemed to have turned violent or chaotic. Political opposition parties were required to register before they assembled. If they did not, such activities could be disbanded.
On the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, Mr. KACWA said that such rights were grounded in the Constitution. The Ugandan Government, with the help of international actors, was developing an Equal Opportunities Commission, which would not only guarantee, but also protect the rights of minorities and ensure that they were given equal access to opportunities. The Government was also working to ensure that a rights-based approach was integrated into all its ministries.
MARGARET AWINO, Desk Officer, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said a rights-based training manual had been issued for the police. Starting next January, such a programme would be launched for the judiciary. Apart from posting the reports of the Ugandan Human Rights Commission on the Internet, the Government’s efforts to publicize further that information had been hampered by a lack of resources.
Mr. CASTILLERO HOYOS, expert from Panama, asked whether the anti-terrorist law included restrictions on freedom of the press.
Mr. KHALIL, expert from Egypt, expressed concern about forced and early marriage, saying that they constituted a serious violation of the rights of young girls and women in terms of the Covenant.
Mr. SOLARI-YRIGOYEN, expert from Argentina, expressed concerns about the right of association, which he said had been practically annihilated in Uganda. There were restrictions and bans on political parties, which were not acceptable. Were there political parties in Uganda or not? Were they allowed to register?
It was not enough simply to say that there were political parties, he said. Were they allowed to hold elections, or were they merely associations without any rights? In practice, there were restrictions on the freedom of circulation of political leaders, which was political persecution. It was most important that the delegation explain their political rights and whether they were allowed to criticize the movement.
MAURICE GLELE AHANHANZO, expert from Benin, sought additional information about Ugandan culture and tradition. Was bride price the same as dowry? In the case of Christian marriage, what court could rule on the dissolution of a marriage?
NISUKE ANDO, expert from Japan, asked whether police guidelines allowed peaceful assembly. Were there any criteria for determining whether a gathering would create a disturbance? In which concrete cases was the registration of political parties requested?
NATHAN BYAMUKAMA, of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, said that while the Human Rights Commission did not have the power to prosecute, it could recommend prosecution and had done so several times.
On training, he said that advocates themselves had suggested that the Commission train magistrates and judges. On the limited application of the first Optional Protocol to the Covenant, Uganda had other major priorities, including the training of police.
Regarding the Commission’s independence, he said the Attorney-General was not a member. Under the Constitution, the Commission could not investigate any matter that was already before a national court, tribunal or any body, particularly in a case involving the prerogative of mercy.
Mr. KAKOOZA, referring to early and forced marriages, said the law on its own could not abolish such practices. Under the Penal Code, defilement referred to sexual intercourse with a female under the age of 18 years. Consent was no defence. One exception was Islamic marriage, in which case the Constitution allowed Muslims to marry even girls as young as 14 years in line with their religion. However, the Commission was conducting education and advocacy programmes to persuade Muslims that early marriages could endanger the life of the wife and contribute to population explosion.
He said the constitutional court had abolished a section of the divorce law on grounds that it discriminated against women. The term “bride price” could be used interchangeably with the term “bride wealth”, but the term “dowry” was not used.
Divorce laws passed by Parliament were secular irrespective of religion, he said. Although efforts were being made to avoid conflict with canon law, the secular law applied to everybody irrespective of their religion.
Regarding the right of lawyers to participate in public activities, he said they had forced the Law Council to change the law to enable them to attend rallies, participate in assemblies and give legal advice to political clients as required and in conformity with the Constitution.
Mr. NSALASATTA said the Prisons Act provided for seven days’ punishment in solitary confinement, which could be imposed by the officer-in-charge. Beyond that, the Commissioner of Prisons could order 30 days’ solitary confinement for a single offence, which could be terminated at any time on the order of a doctor, and which could not be continued thereafter. Solitary confinement was awarded after due inquiry by the officer-in-charge and occurred after due process in the prisoner was allowed to present his witnesses. He had the right to appeal to the Commissioner of Prisons. However, a review of the Prisons Bill proposed to limit solitary confinement to 14 days.
Describing penal diet, he said it was half a meal served on alternate days. It could only be imposed for seven days, but the review of the Prisons Bill, tabled in Parliament, proposed to eliminate the Penal Diet.
On the alarming rate of overcrowding in prisons, he said the Government had been involved in the reconstruction of some prison units.
A Supreme Court ruling had abolished corporal punishment, he said. Even before its abolition, it had already been eliminated, as a result of human rights training.
Mr. SSONKO said the military had rescued more than 7,000 children reported abducted by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). To avoid more abductions, the Government was trying to encourage people in disturbed areas to move into camps for internally displaced persons, where they could be better protected.
He said Uganda had no compulsory military service. When recruits were needed, it advertised in the media, stipulating the education levels required, as well as medical and physical tests. Recruitment was entirely voluntary.
The field court martial enjoyed exceptional powers, even under the Constitution, he said. People accused of capital offences could appeal to the Supreme Court, and hope for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy. The constitutional court had the power to interpret all rulings by any court except the field court martial.
Regarding the camps for internally displaced persons, he said the army had been overstretched in tracking the terrorists. However, it had now amalgamated the camps, reducing their number from 42 to 20 in order to create sufficient security for them. In addition, the State had acquired better means to track the bandits, including the use of helicopter gunships, which enabled the tracking of the terrorists.
Ms. KISEMBO said Uganda’s restrictions on choice of residence were compatible with international norms. The country had set up protected areas and preserves in the interest of environmental protection -- particularly in wetland areas -– where settlement was forbidden. There was also a restriction on the movement of people looking to settle in conflict areas or areas in which their lives might otherwise be in danger.
She said that immigration officers could not arbitrarily deny passports. Restrictions could, however, be placed on persons identified as possibly causing harm to others, as well as those against whom criminal charges were pending. Any person aggrieved by decisions of the immigration board had the right of appeal to the Justice Ministry. If not satisfied by the outcome, such persons could further appeal to the High Court.
On junior police inspectors hearing confessions, Mr. KAMYA reminded the Committee that by the time an officer reached that rank, he or she would most likely have been in law enforcement for some 15 years. So Uganda did not really consider such officers to be “junior” in terms of experience or time on the job.
He added that confessions achieved by torture were not admissible in court. The Constitution mandated that persons arrested or detained must be brought before a judge within 48 hours. Youthful offenders must be brought before judges within 24 hours. On the model police stations currently being constructed, he said that installing special audiovisual equipment could be considered at a later date. For the time being, however, most of the efforts were focused on structural repairs and refurbishment.
Mr. KACWA said that under the Universal Primary Education Act, local governments could by law require parents in their districts to ensure that their children attended school. He added that persons under 18 were not supposed to engage in labour of any sort.
Mr. KAMYA said that military barracks were not used as prison cells, nor were there any safe houses in northern Uganda. He reminded the Committee that northern areas of the country were constantly under pressure from rebel terrorists, with populations on the move and children being kidnapped on a regular basis.
He said that police were not allowed to disrupt political meetings. If an area commanding officer were to decide that such assembly would involve a “breach of the peace”, however, that officer had a duty to first request that the assembly not take place. If the participants refused to heed that request, the officer could demand that it be disbanded.
TOM BUTIME, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said the dilemma facing Uganda was one of transition -- a country moving out of a situation that had been “bad”, but was steadily improving. The delegation had not come to demonstrate that Uganda was a model of human rights. Rather it had come to share with the Committee what it hoped was a clear human rights and political road map for the way forward.
Mr. RODLEY, expert from the United Kingdom, said he had been grateful for the assurance that the Committee would shortly get the latest report of the Uganda Human Rights Commission. He added that it would be beneficial to have more information on military detention
MARTIN SCHEININ, expert from Finland, said he had received many helpful answers, but he still had concerns about Uganda’s anti-terrorist legislation of 2002, particularly on how organizations or individuals were identified. Did they have to be found responsible for one or more terrorist acts before they were listed? Could such organizations be identified before a criminal act had been committed? What were the requirements to establish a terrorist link between individuals and entities?
He also asked for further information on cultural practices, particularly female genital mutilation. Since the Constitution proscribed all practices which “demeaned or are harmful” to women, why didn’t the Government use that provision to outlaw the custom?
Mr. SOLARI YRIGOYEN, expert from Argentina, asked if the country’s political parties were registered or unregistered. He also wanted to know how far along Uganda was towards becoming a multi-party society.
Mr. BHAGWATI, expert from India, said he was still concerned that junior inspectors could hear confessions. This was a highly sensitive area, and controls needed to be in place to ensure that confessions were handled properly. He also asked for further clarification on legal aid.
Response by Uganda
Mr. BYAMUKAMA, of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, said he would provide the Committee with the most up-to-date report, which covered 2002.
Mr. KAKOOZA, Chairman of the Uganda Law Reform Commission, said the anti-terrorist act had not yet been tested in Court, so the measure was certainly open to amendment or upgrading. In that regard, he had taken note of the experts’ comments and would consider them when he returned to Kampala.
On legal aid services, Ms. TINDIFA said a baseline survey was being conducted with the help of non-governmental organizations in an attempt to ensure that such services were made available to the largest number of people possible.
Ms. ZAALE said that some cultural practices were deeply entrenched, and in some regions of the country uncircumcised women were looked down upon. So while the Government agreed that female genital mutilation was abhorrent, it was not easy to just “wake up one day” and declare the practice as illegal.
Mr. BUTIME said that the army did not have the power of arrest or detention. He added that the powers extended to the military while operating in areas of conflict or insurgency were quite different, however. He went on to say that there were 48 political parties, only one of which was registered. He hoped that the other 47 would soon follow suit. By June 2006, Uganda hoped to elect a parliament, a president and local and district councils under a multi-party
ABDELFATTAH AMOR, expert from Tunisia and Committee Chairman, said Uganda’s country report had been particularly useful despite some limitations. It contained some very outspoken and frank language, which was to Uganda’s credit. The country’s recent history and less recent history indicated practices that were alien to human rights, as well as to the dignity of each human individual. The Committee understood the delegation’s language regarding transition, which seemed to indicate that changes could not be made by the wave of a magic wand.
Noting that the Committee must ensure that each State party was fulfilling the obligations into which it had entered, he said the establishment of the Uganda Human Rights Commission gave a great deal of hope, as well as awareness of the enormous difficulties encountered. That was to Uganda’s credit. However, there remained a feeling of incompleteness and an impression that very little had been achieved compared to what remained to be done.
He said that some of Uganda’s legislative provisions, including constitutional ones, could be squared with the Optional Protocol to the Covenant, but its ratification seemed to have no other ambition than to take note. More specifically, there were points to be made about the safety of individuals, the working of the judiciary, torture, terrorism, freedom of association -- including the holding of political meetings -- and the state of the police. The Committee would have to consider those matters more fully when it drafted its final comment.
Emphasizing that a great deal needed to be said about women, he noted that culture, tradition and religion very often offered comfortable explanations for situations like polygamy, early and forced marriages, and female genital mutilation. Regarding polygamy, were Muslims really sure that the Sharia Islamic law permitted it? Some States did not believe that was so, and much of Muslim thinking opposed that idea. Reducing a woman to a state of polygamy was inadmissible; it was an attack on the dignity of women and offended all human individuals.
While a certain popular cultural belief would have everyone accept that an uncircumcised woman was not a real woman, the Committee must dissociate itself, he said. The State could not go along with such a practice that violated human rights since it had entered into commitments that it must respect. The law was not simply made to translate the sombre realities of every day, but also to translate into reality things that were unacceptable in the context of human rights. In Uganda’s case, polygamy and female genital mutilation were unacceptable. Many States had succeeded in creating a new mentality and a new social reality. Uganda was in an excellent position to go along the same path.
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