Why the op­po­si­tion should form the lead­er­ship of the hu­man Rights com­mit­tee

By: Winnie Watera

Jova Ka­ma­teeka [In grey] is the Chair­per­son of the cur­rent Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee. Is this a po­si­tion that the rul­ing NRM party should have? Photo Credit : The Daily Mon­i­tor

The Hu­man Rights com­mit­tee was es­tab­lished in the 9th Par­lia­ment of Uganda in the year 2012 with the man­date of en­sur­ing that all Par­lia­men­tary busi­ness con­forms with Hu­man rights stan­dards. In a bid to ex­e­cute this man­date, the com­mit­tee de­vel­oped a hu­man rights check­list against which as­sess­ment of con­for­mity can be gauged. The com­mit­tee also over­sees the hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion in Uganda, through mon­i­tor­ing all mat­ters re­lat­ing to hu­man rights and gov­ern­men­t’s ob­ser­vance of hu­man rights.

Rule 174 of Par­lia­men­t’s Rules of Pro­ce­dure spells out the func­tions of the  Hu­man rights com­mit­tee which in­clude; mon­i­tor­ing and re­port­ing on hu­man rights con­cerns in all Par­lia­men­tary busi­ness; mon­i­tor­ing Gov­ern­men­t’s com­pli­ance with na­tional and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights in­stru­ments and fol­low­ing up on Gov­ern­ment pe­ri­odic re­ports to in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights mon­i­tor­ing bod­ies; ex­am­in­ing rec­om­men­da­tions of the Uganda Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion (UHRC) re­ports and en­sur­ing that Gov­ern­ment is held ac­count­able in this re­gard; in­quir­ing into any mat­ter re­lat­ing to hu­man rights in Uganda; and car­ry­ing on such other func­tions re­lat­ing to hu­man rights as may be as­signed to it by Par­lia­ment un­der this Act or any other law in force. Gen­er­ally the Com­mit­tee is sup­posed to make rec­om­men­da­tions aimed at im­prov­ing hu­man rights and is ex­pected to re­port to Par­lia­ment at least twice a year, al­though it can re­port on any is­sue it has han­dled.

Given its broad man­date, it’s only rea­son­able that the com­mit­tee be treated as the other fi­nan­cial ac­count­abil­ity com­mit­tees and among other things be chaired and dep­u­tized by mem­bers des­ig­nated by the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion party or or­ga­ni­za­tion. The essence of this would be to check the state or gov­ern­ment in re­gard to abuse of hu­man rights and hav­ing a mem­ber of the rul­ing party as is with Hon­or­able Jova Ka­ma­teeka who be­longs to the Na­tional Re­sis­tance Move­ment party com­pro­mises this.  This has got noth­ing to do with in­com­pe­tence but the fact that in Uganda, the state and agents un­der its ju­ris­dic­tion have emerged as the num­ber one vi­o­la­tors of hu­man rights. Non-state ac­tors like para­mil­i­tary groups and rebel forces also dirty their hands when it comes to hu­man rights, how­ever, the state is a con­stant. This is also ex­ac­er­bated by the fact that  the state are  dom­i­nant ac­tors in global pol­i­tics and are pre­sumed duty bear­ers, with the  pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity of pro­tect­ing and ful­fill­ing in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights norms. Leav­ing the run­ning of the com­mit­tee in its cur­rent state leaves room for com­pro­mise by the in­cum­bent gov­ern­ment.

His­tor­i­cally in Par­lia­ment, NRM mem­bers have been known to de­fend gov­ern­men­t’s stand even when it is wrong. A case in point is the PAC[1] re­port on Mar­kets that im­pli­cated the top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials like Hon­or­able Ruth Nankabirwa in the mis­man­age­ment of the Ugx 10 bil­lion. The NRM cau­cus ex­on­er­ated these of­fi­cials even when Par­lia­ment rec­om­mended they be held li­able for their ac­tions[2].

In the re­cent past there have been vi­o­la­tions to ba­sic rights of Ugan­dans from cur­tail­ing free­dom of ex­pres­sion, as­sem­bly, and as­so­ci­a­tion, ob­struc­tion of op­po­si­tion pub­lic meet­ings, re­ly­ing on broad po­lice pow­ers un­der the Pub­lic Or­der Man­age­ment Act to dis­rupt meet­ings[3], how­ever the com­mit­tee has been quiet, it did not come up to con­demn the acts of the vi­o­la­tors whether in a pub­lic state­ment or on the floor of Par­lia­ment. Only Mem­bers of the op­po­si­tion have been vo­cal on these is­sues, maybe be­cause they are in most cases vic­tims when it comes to state vi­o­la­tions, but at least they speak out against it which should be the bare min­i­mum of any hu­man rights watch­dog like the com­mit­tee.

Ob­ser­vance of hu­man rights is im­por­tant for any young democ­racy like Uganda, ves­sels through which this sup­posed to be achieved should be au­tonomous in every as­pect. How­ever I Par­lia­ment where rep­re­sen­ta­tion is af­fil­i­ated to par­ties, the op­po­si­tion would be well suited to over­see and check hu­man rights is­sues es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to the gov­ern­ment who have a vested in­ter­est in com­mit­ting crimes to de­fend its in­ter­ests. Chang­ing the lead­er­ship of the hu­man rights com­mit­tee should gen­er­ally be premised on ac­count­abil­ity.

[1] Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee

[2] New Vi­sion (http://​www.newvi­sion.co.ug/​news/​665746-nrm-ex­on­er­ates-of­fi­cials-named-in-mar­ket-funds-saga.html)

[3]World Re­port 2015: Uganda (https://​www.hrw.org/​world-re­port/​2015/​coun­try-chap­ters/​uganda)