Tuesday, December 18, 2007


On December 10, the world marked the international human rights Day, with no significant progress in the protection of people’s fundamental human rights registered anywhere in the world.

It’s well over half a century since the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations, and yet millions of people across the globe continue to suffer gross human rights abuses-many silently.

While governments are the worst violators of fundamental rights, these abuses are also very evident right in our homes and workplaces. Women are battered at home, while children are maimed at school and the relentless abuse of the people’s inherent rights to dignity and life goes on unabated.

Even professionals, ‘well’ trained people –some are even experts at their trade- cannot escape the blame for trampling on people’s rights, which in many cases assumes the element of criminal liability. The disabled are not accorded the same opportunities irrespective of a popular saying –that disability does not mean inability.

In this column, harrowing cases of human rights abuses have been highlighted including harassment and intimidation of journalists by the government, the case of Julius Lukyamuzi who was sodomised by one of Kampala’s notorious pastors and he is yet to receive justice three years since he first reported the matter to police.

Remember the traumatic case of Mercy Nafuna, the nine-month old baby who lost her arm due to the negligence of a medical practitioner in Mbale district? In another recent incident, 40-year old George Mugagga, a resident of Kinawataka in Mbuya parish in Kampala, beheaded his wife who was six months pregnant because the lady was HIV negative and the man was positive.

Then there was the exclusive report about ‘ invisible torture’, a new method of torture by state operatives to inflict maximum pain without leaving marks or scars on the bodies of their victims. These are but a few cases of the human rights abuses that have graced the pages of Daily monitor this year alone.

Sadly though, Parliament which is mandated by our constitution to rein in the excesses of the state (government) has shamelessly not debated any of the annual human rights reports prepared by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, for the last ten years.

This means that critical recommendations and findings concerning abuse of human rights where innocent people have lost their lives, have been maimed, detained for long periods without trial, discriminated against, displaced or forced into exile, have not been paid damages awarded to them by human rights tribunals because the government is not interested. They have passed without any parliamentary intervention.

It’s explicitly provided for in Article 20(1) of the constitution that human rights are inherent in a person by reason of his or her birth and are therefore not granted by the state or any law. In the Supreme Court case of Tinyefuza v. Attorney General , Justice Oder as he then was, laboured to explain this constitutional principle.

He reasoned, and I agree with him, that although modern constitutions like ours, enact human rights in their provisions it doesn’t mean that such provisions create ‘the human rights’; rather the constitutional provisions are meant for the recognition and the intention that they should be enforceable in a court of law.

This means that fundamental human rights are universal and are due to every human society. They do not depend on the status of an individual, class, race , nor gender. They are uniform to all the peoples of the world.

Courts of law have emphasised a universally acceptable principle of international and domestic human rights that the constitutionalisation of human rights imposes a fetter on the exercise by the legislature (parliament), the executive and the judiciary of their respective powers to protect and promote the strict observance of human rights.

Equally important is the fact that human rights and the right to individual freedom are inextricably tied to the concept of human dignity. This means that freedom is a condition of human self respect and that of contentment which resides in the ability to pursue one’s own conception of a full and rewarding life.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

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