PRIORITIES ARE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR VIOLATORS, REDRESS TO VICTIMS, HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE TOLD, AS IT CONSIDERS UGANDA’S REPORT

HR/CT/650
22 March 2004

PRIORITIES ARE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR VIOLATORS, REDRESS TO VICTIMS, HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE TOLD, AS IT CONSIDERS UGANDA’S REPORT

22/03/2004
Press Release
HR/CT/650


Human Rights Committee                                     

Eightieth Session                                          

2176th 2177th Meetings* (AM & PM)


PRIORITIES ARE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR VIOLATORS, REDRESS TO VICTIMS,


HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE TOLD, AS IT CONSIDERS UGANDA’S REPORT


The Human Rights Committee this afternoon began its consideration of Uganda’s initial report on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


Tom Butime, Uganda’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said the political and social history of the country bore witness to the after-effects of nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule and human rights violations.  Uganda had begun a new era, however, in 1986 when the National Resistance Movement took over the Government.  Holding perpetrators accountable for rights violations and providing redress to victims had become priorities.


Accordingly, a Commission of Inquiry had been appointed and charged with investigating human rights violations, breaches of the rule of law and abuses of power from 1962 to 1986, as well as recommending ways to prevent their recurrence.  The goal was to assure that all Ugandans enjoyed the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Covenant.  The task would be difficult, but the Government had set the promotion and protection of human rights as a priority.


Based on a recommendation of inquiry, a National Human Rights Commission had been created, said Nathan Byamukama, currently serving on that body.  Stressing the Commission’s independence, he said that while its members were presidential appointees, their appointment had to be approved by parliament.  The conditions of their appointment were as rigorous as those of a high court judge, and they could summon government officials to appear before the commission’s tribunal.


He said the commission did its own investigation, paid witnesses and carried investigations to their logical conclusions.  While most people preferred to have their complaints through amicable mediation, many people brought all types of complaints and the commission referred them to the bodies that were more competent to handle their complaints.


While applauding the delegation’s willingness to discuss sensitive issues such as the death penalty and historical cultural practices, several of the experts said that information had been too general in nature.  They requested more information on, among other things, torture and other inhuman treatment, female genital mutilation and efforts to provide antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV/AIDS.  


Earlier today, the Committee continued its discussion of a draft general comment on article 2 of the Covenant, concerning effective remedies for violations of the treaty.  The draft, entitled “The Nature of the General Legal Obligations Imposed on States” has 20 paragraphs, 10 of which the Experts adopted following their second reading of the text last November in Geneva.


Today, they orally amended and adopted paragraphs 11, 15 and, after a lengthy discussion, part one of paragraph 18 (formerly 17).  That paragraph concerns bringing perpetrators to justice for human rights violations or “certain other violations under the Covenant”.  The Experts intend to continue their review of the Comment at a later date.


By adopting General Comments, the Committee reiterates its desire to assist States parties in fulfilling their reporting obligations.  The Comments draw attention to aspects of the treaty, but do not purport to be limitative or to attribute any priority to different aspects of the Covenant.


The Committee will reconvene tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., when it will continue its consideration of Uganda’s initial report on compliance with the Covenant.


Background


The Human Rights Committee met this morning to discuss a draft general comment on Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concerning State party constitutional and legal frameworks.  This afternoon, it is expected to begin its consideration of Uganda’s initial report on compliance with the Covenant.


Uganda’s report (document CCPR/C/UGA/2203/1), the first since it became party to the Covenant in 1995, states that the people of the country have suffered through myriad human rights violations, particularly during the notorious Amin dictatorship (1971-1979) and the Obete II era (1980-1985).  Uganda began a new era, however in 1986 when Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement took over the Government.  That government remains in power and has from the very beginning set about repairing the country’s poor reputation by denouncing human rights violations and rebuilding respect for democracy and good governance as well as the rights of people.


Holding perpetrators accountable for rights violations and providing redress to victims became priorities.  Accordingly, in 1986, Uganda’s Attorney General appointed a Commission of Inquiry under the Chairmanship of a lead judge on the High Court.  Ugandan citizens welcomed the Commission, which is charged with investigating human rights violations, breaches of the rule of law and abuses of power from 1962 to 1986, as well as recommending ways to prevent their recurrence.  The report adds that during the elaboration of the country’s constitution in 1994, the Constituent Assembly realized the need to create a permanent body -– subsequently known as the Uganda Human Rights Commission -- for the promotion and protection of human rights.


The report then goes on to detail action taken by the Government of Uganda to implement the Covenant.  It highlights voting rights and registration procedures (Article 1), freedom of movement (Article 12) and anti-discrimination measures (Article 26).  On the right to life (Article 6), the report lists the conditions under which the death penalty can be applied –- premeditated murder among them –- and discusses the Government’s action to deal with armed rebels, chiefly the Lord’s Resistance Army.  It notes in this regard that an Amnesty Act was passed in 2000 to pardon those Ugandans involved in “acts of a war-like nature in various parts of the country” since 1986.


The subsequently established Amnesty Commission administers rulings and helps former rebels to integrate into their communities.  In spite of real progress, the report says that the Commission still faces some problems which hamper its activities, including inadequate funding and logistics.  The fact that the body’s mandate expires every six months also makes planning difficult.  The report notes that despite the Constitutional prohibition on torture (Article 7), the Ugandan Human Rights Commission continues to report incidents, particularly in prisons and military detention centres.


Presentation of Uganda’s Initial Report


TOM BUTIME, Uganda’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said that for nearly 30 years, the people of his country had been victim to myriad violations of their rights.  The political and social history of the country bore witness to the aftereffects of years of authoritarian rule.  Uganda had begun a new era, however, in 1986 when the National Resistance Movement took over the Government.  That government remained in power and had from the very beginning set about repairing the country’s poor reputation by denouncing human rights violations and rebuilding respect for democracy and good governance as well as the rights of people.


The goal was to assure that all Ugandans enjoyed the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Covenant, he said.  The task would be difficult, but the Government had set the promotion and protection of human rights as a priority.  Holding perpetrators accountable for rights violations and providing redress to victims became priorities.  Accordingly, in 1986, Uganda’s Attorney General had appointed a Commission of Inquiry under the Chairmanship of a lead judge on the High Court.  Ugandan citizens welcomed the Commission, which is charged with investigating human rights violations, breaches of the rule of law and abuses of power from 1962 to 1986, as well as recommending ways to prevent their recurrence.


Most of the tenets of the Covenant had been merged with national law, he continued, noting equality and freedom from discrimination, protection from torture, right to a fair hearing, and freedom of expression and conscience, among others.  The Government regretted that due to the lack of technical expertise, the report had been delayed.  It had since undertaken to train staff in compiling reports so that further delays would not occur.  The Government had also held wide discussions with civil society, members of the diplomatic corps and the wider public during its information gathering.  Uganda intended to widely publicize the Committee’s comments and recommendations.


Ugandan Response to Written Questions


Regarding the status of the Covenant in domestic law, OLIVE ZAALE, Uganda’s Commissioner for Legal Affairs, said most of its provisions had been incorporated into the Constitution.  They included the protection of life, personal property as well as provisions against slavery and servitude.  Uganda had given the Covenant the force of law.


On measures to fight impunity for violations of the Covenant, JOHN KAMYA, Superintendent of Police, said that under the criminal justice system, anyone whose rights had been trampled could seek redress in the courts.  The three state security agencies had disciplinary codes of conduct, and any of their agents who abused human rights were subjected to due process.  Those found to have trampled people’s rights were subjected to various punishments.


With respect to the availability of legal services, VICTORIA TINDIFA MIREMBE, Senior Inspector, Office of the Inspector General of Government, said the Human Rights Tribunal had awarded compensation to victims of human rights violations.  Lawyers had to handle pro bono cases as a prerequisite to obtaining a licence to practise law.  The justice and law and order sector was facilitating a baseline survey to increase the coverage of legal aid services countrywide.  The police force had set up a human rights complaints desk and a child-care service.


On the functioning of the Commission of Inquiry into violations of human rights, she said it was applied in cases of massacres that had taken place in various parts of the country as well as cases of arbitrary arrest and detention without trial.  Many of its recommendations had been included in the 1995 Constitution.  The Commission had also recommended actions against people who had been found responsible for human rights violations between 1962 and 1986.


NATHAN BYAMUKAMA, Uganda Human Rights Commission, said individuals were free to go to the commission when their rights had been violated.  It had the authority to award damages to those who established a case, and it enjoyed the same powers as the high court.  The commission was not only empowered to investigate violations, but also to make suggestions in cases where there was a need to comply with international conventions or treaties dealing with human rights.  The commission was funded by outside donors, but the Government met the costs of its staff and day-to-day running expenses.


JOHN PAUL SSONKO, Legal Officer, Ministry of Defence, said a law on terrorism had come into force in 2002.  Though some had met its enactment with mixed feelings, the law had contributed greatly to reducing acts of terrorism that had plagued Kampala, the capital, in 1998.


The Ugandan delegation then took up a number of the expert’s questions on gender equality and anti-discrimination measures.  On what progress had been made toward ensuring women’s participation in the political process, Mr. BEEKUNDA GEOERGE KACAWA, Commissioner in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, said that since 1995, gender sensitive principles included in the constitution had been in effect.  The focus had been on gender mainstreaming and enhancing the presence of women on the political scene.  He added that women were participating in economic spheres as well, chiefly through a plan to bolster microfinance strategies.


He went on to discuss the traditional historical and cultural practices that hindered compliance with the Covenant.  Bride price, polygamy, female genital mutilation, consent to marriage and age of marriage were among the Government’s major concerns in that regard.  All those customs fell under “general law” and as such –- like in many African countries -- were not easily abolished.  Nevertheless, there were remedies to ease the effects of those laws under other legislation.  There was a proposed law, approved by Cabinet and now before Parliament, on “domestic legislation”.  That policy would ensure that bride wealth, even under customary law, would not be essential for a marriage to take place.


As for polygamy, the new domestic law would set condition on such behaviour making it difficult to practice.  In Uganda, he said, although there was no specific law on domestic violence, a new self-contained law on domestic violence was being elaborated.  He added that a “help desk” had been established to hear complaints filed by women.


      Mr. KACWA said that his country’s Constitution set out laws prohibiting female genital mutilation.  At the same time, it also offered a programme to provide alternative employment to deter those who performed circumcisions.  The Government was also working to disseminate the belief that genital mutilation was a form of torture.


To ensure girls’ access to education, he said, an affirmative action programme had been established.  Thus far, enrollment of girls in secondary education had increased and, by 2003, had come close to matching that of boys.  Other measures were under way to ensure girls enrolment at all levels.  Among the many civil society groups working in this area he noted the Forum for African Women, which focused on improving the situation of girl children.  Another programme had been targeted to the country’s nomadic ethnic groups.


Next, the delegation took up matters related to the death penalty.  DAVID SEKABEMBE NSALASATTA, Prisons Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noted the crimes that were considered deserving of capital punishment, including aggravated robbery, defilement, and sexual abuse of children less than 10 years of age.  Public debate on all issues concerning the death penalty had been lengthy, with some civil society groups even charging that the Attorney General was in violation of human rights.


On extrajudicial executions, Mr. KACWA said that charges of such practices in northern Uganda were false.  The Uganda people’s defence acted under very stringent laws. Therefore it was unlikely that any such killings could have been carried out.   


Experts’ Comments and Questions


IVAN SHEARER, expert from Australia, asked how many times the Covenant had been cited and relied upon by the Human Rights Commission.  The delegation had not mentioned the national courts.  Were members of the legal profession aware of the Covenant and the incorporation of its provisions into the constitution?


He asked whether the Human Rights Commission acted as a court or as an advisory body and whether the Board of Inquiry into the death of a Catholic priest Father O’Toole was a military court.


MARTIN SCHEININ, expert from Finland, asked about the independence of the Human Rights Commission, noting that its members were presidential appointees.


On gender relations, he asked why the domestic relations bill did not take a firmer approach to outlawing polygamy.  Was criminal law used to eradicate female genital mutilation?


He also sought explicit information regarding capital punishment, extrajudicial executions and “shoot on sight” policies.


On the right to life, he asked about the current situation on antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS.


MAURICE GLELE AHANHANZO, expert from Benin, asked about the nature and functioning of the Human Rights Commission and the status of non-governmental organizations.


PRAFULLACHANDRA NATAWARLAL BHAGWATI, expert from India, said there were still many questions unanswered that were of concern to him and a few of his colleagues.  Chiefly, he wanted to know about the extent of the powers of the national Human Rights Commission.  How many complaints were before that body?  What was the nature of those complaints?  Did its rulings have legal effect, or were they merely advisory?  He was also disturbed by continuing reports of torture and asked what was being done to address the issue.  And while the delegation had reported that there had been no executions in the country in some five years, at the same time, some persons convicted of capital crimes languished in prisons for inordinately long periods.  What was being done to address that problem, he asked? He also wanted to know about the number of women in judiciary.  


MAXWELL YALDEN, expert from Canada, said the Human Rights Commission was indeed a remarkable body “on paper” with extensive powers.  With that in mind, he asked the delegation how many cases had been dealt with through mediation and how many had gone before human rights tribunals? In general, the Committee needed more information about the Commission, its achievements and the challenges it faced.    


RUTH WEDGWOOD, expert from the United States, wondered if there had ever been any assault, battery or torture charges filed as a result of female genital mutilation?  She also asked if there were any internal enquiries into the actions of the nation’s military, particularly in light of reports of operations conducted by Ugandan forces in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.


NISUKE ANDO, expert from Japan, focused his questions on the rights of women and traditional cultural practices.  He requested more information on the National Strategy on Gender Based Violence.  Could police intervene in domestic violence cases?  Could they play the role of reconciler?  Was there any plan to criminalize female genital mutilation?


NIGEL RODLY, expert from the United Kingdom, asked if there had been sentences of death or execution in military courts since 1995.  


Uganda’s Response


Mr. BYAMUKAMA said the Commission was not just an advisory body.  Under powers stipulated in the Constitution, it could order compensation for victims appearing before it or any other legal remedy.


He said the Commission of Inquiry into human rights violations no longer existed, as it had completed its specific mandate, which included recommending the establishment of the Human Rights Commission.


Stressing the Commission’s independence, he said that while its members were presidential appointees, Parliament had to approve their appointments.  The conditions of their appointment were as rigorous as those of high court judges, and they could summon government officials to appear before the commission’s tribunal.


He said the commission conducted its own investigations, carrying them to their logical conclusion.  While most people preferred to have their complaints resolved through amicable mediation, many brought complaints that the commission was not competent to consider.  In such cases it identified the bodies that were more competent to handle their complaints.


Ms. ZAALE confirmed that there were times when ordinary courts invoked the Covenant.  Article 50 of the constitution stipulated the commission’s right to hear claims of human rights violations and they had sometimes cited the Covenant directly, most recently in a case involving publication of false news.


Regarding female genital mutilation, she said it was not widespread in Uganda and was only practised by a small community who believed it was part of their culture to circumcise women.  It was useless to pass a law that would not be enforced and that was why the Government had started a programme to sensitize the population about the ills of female genital mutilation before progressively moving to abolish the practice.


With respect to alleged “shoot on sight policies”, Mr. KAMYA said the police response to violent criminals was usually proportionate to the violence they encountered.  Rather than a question of shooting on sight, it was a matter of using decisive force in self-defence.


On the legal basis for police intervention in cases of domestic violence, he said the police based such interventions on their mandate to ensure law and order.  Police units had been trained in counselling and other aspects of such sensitive cases.


JOSEPH KAKOOZA, Chairman of the Uganda Law Reform Commission, responded to a question about polygamy by saying that in order to marry a second wife, the man had to demonstrate his ability to support two wives to treat them equally.  He also had to establish separate homes for them and secure the first wife’s consent to the subsequent marriage.


Regarding HIV/AIDS, he said the law on patents was being amended so the Government could acquire a compulsory licence in order to manufacture drugs in Uganda.  At the same time, the United States Government had provided assistance so that antiretroviral drugs were available in the country.


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*    The 2175th meeting was closed.


For information media. Not an official record.