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 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.
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, 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.
 Public Accounts Committee
 New Vision (http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/665746-nrm-exonerates-officials-named-in-market-funds-saga.html)
World Report 2015: Uganda (https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/uganda)