By : Yossa Immaculate Daisy
Human rights are well regarded as those absolute fundamental freedoms to which a person is inherently entitled simply because one is a human being. The right to a peaceful assembly and association and right to freedom of movement are just a few of those rights as stipulated in Article 20 and 13 respectively of the UDHR.
Uganda is one of the countries state party to the UDHR and the binding treaties of the ICCPR and ICESCR. To this effect, the 1995Ugandaconstitution carefully tackles within all the chapters and specifically chapter four is devoted to human rights. These cover the civil political as well as social economic and cultural rights.
While this earns the government a plus, the comprehension among Ugandans of their human rights let alone what human rights are is another subject altogether. While the elite may probably prove otherwise, the illiterate who make up over 50% of the population may show otherwise. The few translations of the constitution in the local languages hasn not made matters any better. How then can the general population hold the government in the respect of human rights accountable remains a paradox? It’s thus left to a few individuals who include lawyers, members of academia and other elite. Institutions like the Uganda Human Rights Commission and other International Agencies like Amnesty International and Human Rights watch come in to play a number of roles which range from supervisory, advisory, oversight and monitoring state obligations to human rights promotion and protection among other duties.
In the face of the hard financial times as we came to the close of 2011, characterized by skyrocketing prices of essential commodities especially fuel in Uganda, pressure group-organization Activists for Change emerged. The purpose was to mobilize the masses for collective action as a signal to the government to act. This was pushed by the government’s apparent laxity to get a solution to the high increase in fuel prices which affected almost every other sector of the economy and livelihood of the general population. A pressure group, comprised of members from different political parties mainly from the opposition, they launched the walk to work campaign. Through this drive, they urged citizens from all parts of the country to peacefully walk to work as opposed to using commuter taxis or their personal vehicles because of high fuel prices. The mass following the activists received during this campaign was seen as a security threat and an attempt to “overthrow the government”. Critics wondered how civilians walking to work unarmed would overthrow a government but more perplexing was how walking to work became a crime, as people were arrested for this act of walking to work. We wondered then what had happened to freedom of movement (Article 13 of the UDHR) especially in ones own country.
Then came 2012- the economic situation hasn’t changed much. A4C which stands for Activists for Change as they are now popularly known thought of other means of educating the masses about the government’s role in the face of hard economic times. Through their networks, this time round they mobilized the masses to convene at different venues/locations for a peaceful talk and to dialogue about the issues affecting majority of them including corruption, inflation among other issues. As has been the case, the police first came out strongly to condemn the gatherings stating that they had not been notified. Even upon receiving written notifications, they said it was not enough as approval it was later learnt needed to be sought before they could go ahead. With knowledge of their rights, the activists did not give up as they continually stated it was their right to peacefully assemble and to associate.
After a long rigorous process to convene as planned, the green light was finally signaled and a couple of the meetings organized were held successfully under tight security of the police. Critics then wondered what was wrong after all if all went on well. This was until, they were warned about the information that they pass across during the gathering which if not revised, the “associations” and “assemblies” would be stopped or even worse they would be held accountable. All these events have served to question the role of the state-in this case Uganda in promoting its citizens human rights, the rights to free movement and free association as well as protecting these same rights. Shouldn’t there be a meaningful system in place to guarantee citizens rights without being pessimistic and wiry of the opposition? InUganda’s case, the system may be in place but its role is yet to be feasible especially when seen through the lens of young multi-party politics.