Police dispersing protesters using teargas
Human Rights defenders are concerned about the growing abuse and violation of human rights and freedoms in the Country.
According to the Uganda Civic Index released Thursday by the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda-NCHRDU at Protea Hotel, Uganda’s civic space is shrinking as government continues to censor media, civil society and violate rights to access to information.
The study conducted between August 2021 through September 2021 involved reviewing existing literature on human rights and freedoms in Uganda and also interviewing 113 respondents who were human rights defenders.
The Lead researcher Associate Professor Ronald Kakungulu says that when they asked respondents what they thought about the direction Uganda was taking in respect for human rights and the rule of law, a whopping 73.9 percent said the country was heading in the wrong direction while only 10.9 percent believed Uganda was heading in the right direction.
Those who said Uganda was heading in the wrong direction pointed to the restriction of media freedom, freedom of expression and closing of Non-Government Organisations.
Violation of press freedoms was one of the biggest issues raised. According to the Human Rights Network for Journalists Press Freedom Index Report, 2020, a total of 174 cases of press freedom violations were reported in 2020.
The Civic index identifies three top forms of violations of press freedoms as police brutality, obstruction from news sources and venues and public insults and intimidation.
Another violation referred to in the index was the increased enforcement of repressive provisions in the NGO Act 2016, Anti-Money Laundering Act, and the Public Health Control of Covid-19.
Prof Kakungulu also says that rules and Presidential directives were identified as factors that have curtailed their civic space rights and Resident District Commissioners as enablers.
Susan Juliet Agwang, the Legal and Research Officer at African Freedom and Information Center says while Uganda has laws like Access to Information Act, it isn’t enough when there is no implementation.
She says public officials often block access to information saying that they took an oath of secrecy which requires them to keep secrets of government.
Agwang says the Constitution is the supreme law and should be respected by government officials.
The Coordinator of Human Rights Network for Journalists-HRNJ Robert Sempala expressed discontent with government for abusing people’s rights to interface through the internet by shutting down internet.
Sempala also says that freedom of the media is often violated by government agencies including police, the army and Uganda Communications Commission-UCC. Security personnel have often been faulted for beating and assaulting journalists on duty while UCC threatens to close media houses on allegations of breaking minimum broadcasting standards.
Sempala says this has led to self-censorship among media practitioners and media houses who he says shun investigative journalism for fear of being closed or attacked by government agencies.
However, Abdu-Salam Waiswa, the Head Legal and Compliance at UCC described the report as imbalanced and portraying the country as without any respect for human rights and freedoms.
He specifically addressed the issue of media freedom saying some media practitioners act as though their freedoms are absolute and without respect for others’ rights and freedoms.
He says the commission often received complaints from people who have been abused, defamed and disrespected by media practitioners through their TV or Radio shows. He say media practice is not professionalized and as such, several people end up on media platforms without training on the basics on the practice of ethical journalism.